Madam Chair, and members of the committee, thanks so much for the invitation to speak with you today.
My name is Jean-Philippe Tizi. I'm the chief of Canadian operations with the Canadian Red Cross. I'm joined today by Bill Mintram, senior manager of indigenous relations within the Canadian Red Cross.
We are very pleased to be with you today to share some of the observations and learnings from this year's wildfire season, which, as we know, has been extremely intense.
I would like to start by speaking briefly about the Canadian Red Cross collaboration with indigenous people and communities across the country. The Canadian Red Cross has a long history of working with indigenous people and communities. We have in fact worked with over 200 first nations across Canada so far. The community is at the centre of all Canadian Red Cross work and our goal is, obviously, to empower community leadership and enhance local capacity in a community-driven and community-led format. As an organization, we are committed to reconciliation, cultural safety, and collaboration with indigenous leadership, community organizations, and partners. We are also committed to a community-based service delivery that acknowledges first nations, Métis, and Inuit sovereignty, including nation-to-nation relationships.
Wildfire season 2017, as we know, was an extremely intense season that impacted so many people across the country, but mainly in the west. This summer we saw an active wildfire season with more than 5,300 fires that burned an area larger than 34,000 square kilometres. As part of this response, the Red Cross worked closely alongside indigenous people and communities, provincial governments, and INAC, of course, to assist more than 84,270 Canadians. This work included mobilizing more than 3,000 personal support people across more than 57 locations, including providing support to over 30 affected indigenous communities across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, of course, British Columbia, and also some in Alberta in a more limited fashion. Allow me to highlight some of the key actions of our work.
In Manitoba the Red Cross supported five indigenous communities. As you know, we were working with local leadership, INAC, and DND to coordinate the evacuation of more than 7,200 people. We arranged around 300 flights. We mobilized our troops and our logistic capacities to organize those flights. We have been supported as well by DND, who mobilized 12 flights as well just to complete the work. Also, as part of a five-year agreement with INAC we have been providing emergency supports to Manitoba first nations. Our team has worked with 12 first nations on emergency preparedness activities before this season and is now continuing. That's Manitoba in a very short fashion.
For Saskatchewan, in September 2017 extreme heat and dry weather resulted in the evacuation of 2,860 people. Evacuees were sent to Prince Albert and Saskatoon. We again provided emergency social services to all the evacuees on behalf of the provincial authorities for a total of 24 days. Again, it was a very long evacuation. This support included accommodation for 2,860 evacuees as well as the distribution of over 6,500 supplies, including cots, blankets, and comfort kits.
In B.C., obviously the largest of all the efforts this summer, there was a very long and intense response. We responded to hundreds of fires across the province and we assisted in B.C. more than 50,000 Canadians in the provision of accommodation, registration, emergency financial assistance, and individual support via casework. Of course, the work continues to be delivered now.
To date, our teams have conducted over 100 visits to the 24 indigenous communities that were impacted by this summer's wildfires. We are working closely with local leadership to understand how best we can support their population as they return to their new normal.
To date, these initiatives have included the following:
Around safety and well-being, obviously, we have learned a lot. Learning from other disasters has taught us the need to increase our support for mental and emotional well-being for people suffering from the psychosocial impact of evacuation.
The work continues to be done in collaboration with partners such as the B.C. health authorities, the First Nations Health Authority, INAC, and others to avoid duplication. This support extends for months and even years for those most vulnerable. We know it's a long run here.
In the area of community partnerships, community partnership grants are a vital aspect to helping communities recover. The projects are generated by local groups and reflect community priorities and culture. This support includes grants for schools, local governments, first nation bands, and community organizations to support responses and recovery. For example, we have recently approved a grant for first nation bands to assist with their costs to hunt outside their usual area as the animals have moved due to the fires. That's the typical type of support we could provide. Another example of community partnership requests from indigenous communities is for cultural gatherings and ceremonies which are, as we know, an important part of their recovery process.
Finally, there's support for small business. Another great example of how we are meeting the unique needs of indigenous communities is through our support for small business, including not-for-profit organizations, and of course, first nations in British Columbia on the inclusion of cultural livelihoods, recognizing the value in indigenous communities of individuals whose primary sources of income are cultural, artisanal, and through traditional hunting, trapping, and fishing. I'm very pleased to share that to date, over 2,900 applications have been received and over 2,100 of these applications have already been approved and processed in terms of assistance. The second phase of this program was just launched on November 20 and will continue to provide relief for small businesses and those living cultural livelihoods in a similar way to our support for individuals and families.
Obviously, lots of lessons have been learned. Again, it has been a very intense season, another one after Fort McMurray last year, and the Canadian Red Cross is obviously committed to work alongside communities before, during, and after disasters. It's a long run. We know one of the teams is still on the ground delivering services and will be there for a long time in B.C., in particular.
As part of this commitment, we are currently conducting consultations on our wildfire 2017 response with indigenous communities across all three provinces. Feedback from community members, local organizations, and other partners will help us continue to shape and adapt our programming.
We have three major recommendations. There are many others, but I just wanted to share those with you and with this committee at this time.
I will now turn to the first lesson and recommendation. The first response to any disaster is always local. It's through here; it's through international. We recommend investment in preparedness activities. We need to boost the investment in preparedness activities which would help enhance local capacity from within indigenous communities. We're doing well collectively. We believe that we can do much more again in terms of preparing communities and reducing risk and impact of future disasters.
Second, it is crucial to recognize that the diversity of indigenous communities and their individual languages, customs, cultures, and their community history, while ensuring culturally appropriate emergency preparedness tools, training, and activities. Adapting the approach to the very different nations, bands, communities across Canada is essential.
Finally, there is a need for increased collaboration with indigenous people and communities in both preparing and responding to emergencies of all kinds.
Madam Chair, and members of the committee, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today. We'll be very pleased to respond to any questions you may have.