Chisasibi takes in fellow Cree displaced by wildfires


The Cree community of Chisasibi in northern Quebec has taken in more than 230 fellow Cree who have had to leave the neighbouring community of Wemindji for a second time because of an evacuation order. 

Wemindji officials declared a state of emergency on Wednesday because of an out of control fire burning about 25 kilometres east of the community — Fire 602. High winds forecast for Thursday led officials to order a Phase 1 evacuation of elders, those with health issues and mothers and newborns.

And for the first time since the very challenging 2023 forest fire season began, Cree people who needed to leave their homes were sent as a group to another Cree community. 

"They can speak their language and be with people that they're comfortable with. It's the closest community accessible by road," said Daisy House, the chief of Chisasibi, the largest of the Cree communities, located about a 20-minute flight — or a three-hour drive — north of Wemindji

House says her local public safety officer received a call Tuesday evening from Wemindji officials, who said they were thinking of sending out their most vulnerable residents and asking whether Chisasibi could take them in. 

"We've hosted several tournaments in the past and I think we've taken on 500 plus people before. So it was manageable," said House. 

"Once the word got out through social media, local radio people started calling in … they're just that close-knit family and … you don't think twice to help," said House, adding 172 evacuees are being hosted in private homes in Chisasibi and the rest are at the hotel or in construction camps. 

A tiring summer of evacuations

Residents of several other Cree communities have needed to leave their homes, sometimes more than once, since the start of the fire season.

Victor Blackned is the public safety officer for the Cree Nation of Wemindji. He was in charge of co-ordinating this most recent evacuation as well as another earlier in the summer when some Wemindji residents were sent to Quebec City.

"I don't have anything bad to say about Quebec City, we were received well," said Blackned.

"I do think (evacuees) feel more comfortable being in Eeyou Istchee than in an area where language was a barrier," he said, adding he could tell they preferred to be "close to home."