Evacuating Pauingassi First Nation together

By Michelle Palansky

The residents of the Pauingassi First Nation were evacuated from their community on May 25, due to encroaching wildfires. A remote, and by all accounts, wildly beautiful community, Pauingassi is only accessible by helicopter and float plane. Evacuees have been told that they may be staying in Winnipeg for some time after being flown out.

On May 30, Pauingassi evacuees assembled at the reception centre in Winnipeg for hotel reassignment. It had been decided that evacuees needed to be consolidated into the same hotels so the community could be closer.
Sonya Keeper laughing in the face of adversity

Sonya Keeper - laughing in the face of adversity

It was during this process that I met Sonya Keeper, a Pauingassi First Nation evacuee. A middle-aged lady with her family all around her, she described her anxiety about her situation and about the initial evacuation.

“They say that there’s a fire coming from the east. It’s about two kilometres away. I’m worried about my pictures – my kids’ baby pictures and my grandkids’ baby pictures. We left everything behind.”

After waiting more than five hours to receive her hotel reassignment, and with several more hours to go, Sonya maintained her good humour, patience and gratitude for the help she had received.

She was satisfied with the hotel and the food, and happy that they were able to use their vouchers to get some clothing and toiletries.

“It’s all good,” said Sonya.

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