PAGC and Red Cross expand partnership to improve wildfire evacuation services

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald (L to R) Luc Mullinder and Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte exchanged blankets after signing an agreement between the Red Cross and PAGC on Friday morning.

The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) and Canadian Red Cross have expanded their existing partnership to ensure First Nations in the north will receive more in-depth training so they can assist with wildfire evacuations.

PAGC and Red Cross representatives made the news official by signing a ceremonial relationship protocol in Prince Albert on Friday. The agreement builds on a partnership that has been in place for many years.

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said the agreement would improve evacuation services in urban areas like Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina. It will also ensure translators are present for residents who require one.

“Some of them (evacuees) are first time into the city,” Hardlotte said. “Probably the most important part is the translation of the language, whether it’s from the far North, the Dene or from Eastern sector the Woodland Cree and the Cree language and maybe Dakota.”

Luc Mullinder the Vice President, Saskatchewan for the Canadian Red Cross, said that the signing was exiting but also bittersweet for the organization as the search for Frank Young continues on Red Earth and Shoal Lake.

“For us to be able to work alongside and walk alongside the community as they continue to develop capacity to create a nation to nation support system during evacuation, that’s a very exciting thing for us because we look at this partnership as a true partnership,” Mullinder said.

“This is the right thing to do. Grand Chief mentioned the importance of community leading community responses and community continuing to develop their capacity to support nation to nation. It’s a great honour for us to help out with that,” he added.

The signing comes after PAGC communities Red Earth and Shoal Lake Cree Nations were evacuated due to wildfires burning near those communities during the last wildfire season.

The agreement provides a framework for continued collaboration between the Red Cross and PAGC’s 12-member nations. It formalizes the overall scope, roles, responsibilities and expectations of the organizations for evacuation planning and response.

Along with Hardlotte and PAGC Executive Director Al Ducharme, representatives from the Northern Intertribal Health Authority, Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management and Indigenous People’s Canadian Red Cross were on hand for the signing.

The signing was for all NITHA partners except Meadow Lake.

“It came down to time being of the essence,” Hardlotte said. “The fire season is here and thank goodness for the weather. We don’t really have any fires at the moment in the north country, but the time was a factor meaning that we had to sign something here so when it comes to evacuations that our people are taken care of.

“In our case it is usually floods and then also in forest fires and evacuations that we have to deal with.”

Hardlotte said the agreement will help cover evacuations, while the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency will continue to be responsible for the fire suppression end.

It helps that the Red Cross has the resources to work with high priority evacuees in terms of language and cultural elements.

“It also means training opportunity for our community like for example registrations,” Hardlotte said. “For our communities, and also the Prince Albert Grand Council, it means the importance of language and the importance of culture. Our Elders, community members, they want that translator throughout the evacuation.”

Hardlotte said the expanded partnership gave PAGC leaders peace of mind.

First Nations members on reserve will also receive more in depth training so they can provide services along with the Red Cross. Hardlotte said it will make sure there is a friendly and familiar face receiving evacuees in larger centres.

Hardlotte explained that the agreement was for five years. It also has a termination clause if problems develop.

He added that the Emergency Coordinators from PAGC will always play a lead role along with First Nations leadership

“I’m happy and I’m grateful that our people are going to be safe, are going to be taken care of when it comes to an evacuation,” Hardlotte said. “We will work also with Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency to put those fires out.”