Evacuees were forced to wait in line for up to eight hours because of the slow registration process by CRC—the Canadian Red Cross—before they were even given a chance to eat food or relax. It was quite frustrating.
I had asked the Red Cross site manager to allow our own people to help with the registration, because there were only eight people registering at a time and perhaps two or three were on a break, meaning five people were registering the 300 to 400 people in line at a time. It was heartbreaking. I stopped asking after being denied twice.
It was after his shift had ended and his replacement came in that I appealed to the second site manager, and he let us get our own people in line. For all the preliminary data—names, addresses, birth dates—our own people didn't have to ask the parents the kids' names, because they already knew them, so we got through. It was the same for the medical conditions. Our people knew what each other was suffering from, and that saved the embarrassment of having to publicly list all your issues with someone else sitting right beside you.
We got through 300 people in less than an hour. As the buses came in, it was easy to manage people who were coming in off the bus.
People were starved. Many Wasagamack people said they wished they hadn't been forced to leave St. Theresa, as our own people fed them far better than the Red Cross did. There were gracious donations of food, clothing, and items from the general public—Manitobans—which the Red Cross did not want to handle, but we found a way to accept them, each band having set up a receiving unit in hotels throughout Winnipeg.
After an evacuee was processed, they were allowed to eat. There were then issues with hygiene and sanitation. Everyone was completely smelling like smoke and was dirty from having to sleep on airport floors or outside the airport while waiting for a plane. There were no facilities that would allow for our elders or our children or young mothers to wash their clothes or take showers. Doctors, health care aides, or nurses were not made available upon the arrival of our people, despite many issues.
These were our priority one people; all had health issues. I personally called 911 there at RBC Convention Centre so that my people could get the medical aid, as many evacuees were told by Red Cross staff to find their own way to health care clinics—of which typically they wouldn't have any knowledge, as they were not Winnipeg residents—or were told to go and wait in line at hospital emergency rooms.
Going forward, on-site medical care should be a priority for evacuees, particularly in the event of a natural disaster, so that the sick and elderly can receive the care they desperately need. We have had many elders suffer from pneumonia because of the draughty evacuation shelters. As well, our newborns and our prenatal women all have serious issues with health because of what they went through.
Regrettably, some of our hotel evacuees did not fare much better. Some of the hotels had no restaurants. Even when they did have a restaurant, many evacuees ended up paying out of pocket for food or outright starved, as the food vouchers given to them were insufficient. Also, the menu selection was very limited. Not many elders can digest pizza or spicy foods.
Again it was my own people coming to the rescue. We've had first nations from the area surrounding Winnipeg come in with moose meat, goose, fish, bannock. We were able to find kitchens. It was very hard to find kitchens—