Flooding and slide impacts across Stó:lō territory varied greatly depending on where the community was situated.
“We’ve been fortunate around Chilliwack,” said Squiala Chief David Jimmie, president of the Stó:lō Nation Chiefs’ Council.
Squiala First Nation, and other Indigenous communities closer to Chilliwack, fared better than those in the flood disaster zone on Sumas flats, in Yarrow, or in the Chilliwack River Valley, Jimmie reported.
The Stó:lō leader said the real concern is the long-term impacts of flooding across Stó:lō territory, which stretches roughly from Langley to Yale.
They need strategies for resilience in the face of severe weather events, and to address the need for more flood mitigation for First Nations.
“We have to talk about what can we do to prepare, knowing that this could happen again,” Jimmie said.
The heavy rain returned last week with a second atmospheric river and then a third this week. The deluges came as communities were already trying to catch their breath from the first set of weather-related impacts.
If Jimmie had any message to share, it was to urge everyone to stay calm.
“It was a big concern when people started panic-buying, and cleaning out grocery stores, because then food security became an issue,” the chief said.
It was only alleviated once they were able to reopen Highway 7 to commercial traffic, and get groceries back on the shelves.
“It’s tough to stay calm in an emergency because we want to take care of our own,” he said. “But we have to think collectively, and support each other.”
Things had been improving daily as last week progressed, and more roads and highways started to open up to link the communities.
One terrible consequence of recent events was a burial site in the Chilliwack River Valley washed downstream as the land eroded in the high flows.
“It’s unfortunate we learned one of our burial sites had washed away before we could even try to respond to it,” Jimmie said.
Members of Sem:ath (Sumas) First Nation were able to travel over Sumas Mountain to access supplies, but the Barrowtown pump station on the brink of failure was a major concern.
“Thankfully the work of volunteers was able to secure the pump station,” Jimmie said.
Chief Jimmie’s own community of Squiala First Nation near Chilliwack came close to suffering a dike breach from high water raging in the slough. But the worst did not materialize, he said.
Heading east from the flood zone, there were impacts in communities like Chawathil, or Skawahlook, and others more geographically isolated.
“Some of the communities were completely cut off and lost power,” Jimmie said.
The Chawathil chief opened the community to take in stranded travellers, he noted, even as they were trapped between slides on either side, and had lost power.
For Shxwhá:y Village, they had to dig trenches to change the direction of water flow that was threatening one home.
At Atchelitz, they faced some flooded basement issues.
Skwah First Nation members were concerned about being on the unprotected side of the dike but fortunately they were not flooded.
Chief Jimmie noted that lots of stories of generous and caring people going out of their way to help each other have been coming out, whether it was taking flood victims and trapped travellers in, helping farmers, and taking care of animals, filling sandbags, or feeding people.
“As a whole, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, everyone working together, is how we get through these type of emergencies. It’s by treating everyone equally and with kindness.
“It’s so good to see that is happening.”