Home away from home: Culture camp helps Deschambault Lake wildfire evacuees

Celine Pearson prepares trout heads to cook over an open fire on May 25, 2023. Pearson was helping cook a traditional feast for Deschambault Lake wildfire evacuees as part of a two-day culture camp. -- Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald

The Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (PBCN) urban reserve was filled with sizzling fish, trays of wild meat and huge pots of bright-coloured vegetables on Thursday evening.

PBCN members banded together to cook a traditional meal for wildfire evacuees from Deschambault Lake. They also coordinated daily activities, such as bowling, golf, kids activities and movie nights.

The meal was part of a two-day culture camp to help evacuees feel more at home.

Tommy Bird regularly steps up to cook cultural food during times of hardship.

“It’s just to give a helping hand in a time of need,” he said, adding that simple acts of showing you care make all the difference.

“They give you that hope.”

Over a thousand people from Deschambault Lake evacuated a week ago to Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Flin Flon and Creighton.

As of Friday, the KPIR02 fire south of the community was about 4,600 hectares. According to the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA), crews are focusing on fighting the southern edge of the fire.

There’s also “very dry fuels in the area,” it said.

Judy Eninew is one of the evacuees.

“Nobody expected to be evacuated so fast and so quickly. A lot of people are not city people, so they’re not used to being in the city for long periods of time,” she said.

“I’m just really anxious and I don’t know what to expect. It’s really tiring being away from the community.”

She said children are particularly overwhelmed being away from their homes, including her two grandkids.

However, Eninew expressed her excitement for a meal filled with local, culturally-prepared food.

“Everybody wants a home cooked meal,” she said.

Deschambault Lake wildfire evacuees Judy Eninew, her husband and grandchildren. — Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald

Donna Morin, one of the event’s organizers, said it’s apparent how much the wildfire is weighing on evacuees.

“Some of them are traumatized. They didn’t even want to stand around this fire because the fire was so close to the community when they left,” she said.

Morin said they’re working “sun up to sun down” to ensure evacuees are provided with not just the necessities, but also fun activities.

“A cultural camp is always important because it makes them feel back at home again – having traditional food and the ability to gather.”

Morin said PBCN is receiving support from the Canadian Red Cross and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. She also thanked the City of Prince Albert for opening up its facilities for activities.

PBCN consists of eight communities: Deschambault Lake, Denare Beach, Kinoosao, Pelican Narrows, Prince Albert, Sandy Bay, Southend and Sturgeon Landing.