Manitoba, Canada

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Our Home and Native Land--Lake St. Martin After the Flood

MANITOBA, CANADA (2013-ongoing)


The First Nations people of Lake St. Martin have watched their homes grow moldy and their shorelines disappear since 1961 from repeated and intentional flooding by the Canadian province of Manitoba.


Eventually their ancestral lands were permanently flooded out and the people were evacuated from their uninhabitable homes in May 2011 to the province’s capital city of Winnipeg -- the very city that was saved at the expense of their 140-year old reserve.


Since May 2011 they continue to be displaced and their reserve has been condemned. They wait dispersed from friends and family in a loud and unfamiliar environment, a world away from their quiet reserve 255 kilometers north.

Lake St. Martin reserve is quiet as nearly all residents have taken part in the mandatory evacuation.

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Mold seeps through the ceilings of a home belonging to one of the few people who refused to leave the reserve despite the mandatory evacuation and lack of running water.

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Kassidy Pelletier, 16, walks through her childhood home on the reserve to see the house before it is demolished. Kassidy was doing dishes in this kitchen when she heard about the evacuation; on her short return visit, she found her house had been looted and vandalized, like many other homes on the reserve.
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Danielle Sinclair-Traverse at the condemned Lake St. Martin school that was flooded out long before the final evacuation.

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A note found in a vacant home on Lake St. Martin reserve. Most of the band members thought they would be back in a few weeks not knowing that the displacement would drag on for years and that their community would eventually be deemed uninhabitable and that they would never to return home.

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Natalie Forbes tries to calm her crying grandson Lucas as she walks up and down the halls of her temporary home in a one-bedroom hotel room in Winnipeg that she shares with her daughter. She has yet to return to the reserve since she was evacuated, and her house has since been demolished.

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Margaret Traverse, who has lived on Lake St. Martin Reserve all her life and has been shuffled to numerous hotels, speaks on the phone as house keeping cleans her hotel room.
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Five-year-old Izrael Peebles who has Dystonia, a  neurological disorder which keeps him in diapers, unable to walk, and causes him to twist his limbs due to muscle contractions, receives one of many soothing baths daily at his grandparents' temporary home. His pregnant mother lives in a rough north-end neighbourhood in the city.
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Kassidy Pelletier gets help with her graduation cap from her mother Jenny Pelletier before making her Grade 9 valedictorian speech at a temporary school in Winnipeg for Lake St. Martin students. She is one of four Grade 9 students to graduate in June out of 14 students who initially enrolled in the fall of 2012.

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Four students graduate grade nine at the temporary Lake St. Martin school in Winnipeg. The school saw grade nine attendance drop from 18 students before the 2011 evacuation to four in 2013.
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A thick binder which includes just two years of medical records of Marilyn Marsden, 56, lies at a Winnipeg hospital. Since the evacuation the fifty-six-year-old has had three heart attacks related to stress and suffers from illnesses related to living in a damp home for many years. Without access to a kitchen she has been eating hotel restaurant food for two years.
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Rosey plays at a video lottery terminal (VLT) at the hotel where evacuees pick up their living allowance cheques once a month. In November 2012 their living allowance fell from $23 a day to $4 a day for all expenses besides rent. Gambling is readily available to many evacuees as their hotels feature VLTs and some are attached to casinos.

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Evacuee Becky Sinclair, who now rents a home with two others after living in numerous hotels, has a beer in her favourite quiet spot behind a hotel which houses evacuees in Winnipeg. Many of the hotels evacuees reside in have beer vendors and bars.
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Margaret Traverse prays at a church service in Winnipeg. She attends church services multiple times a week as it is one of the few opportunities she has to leave her hotel, located far from the city centre.
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Lake St. Martin and other First Nations fisherman and their families protest the re-opening of the Lake St. Martin emergency channel. The province claims the outlet will alleviate flooding while fisherman claim it is devastating their fishing livelihood.

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Diane Sinclair, whose 21-year-old daughter Alexis took her life weeks after the evacuation, visits her daughter’s grave with her granddaughter Danielle Sinclair-Traverse at Lake St. Martin reserve. The mother of nine cares for the four-year-old following her daughter’s death.
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Evacuee Kyle beardy, who is fluent in speaking his traditional language of Saulteaux, leaves tobacco for eagles behind a hotel housing evacuees in Winnipeg. The Anishinaabe community has traditionally held the eagle in high regard believing that tobacco should be left with prayer for the animal to carry messages up to the Creator.
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Commercial fisherman Gordon Beardy, right, and Clifford Sumner, left, stand in a boat full of pickerel as they fish on Dauphin River near Lake St. Martin reserve. Clifford has been fishing since he was a child and this is his first season back since the evacuation. The men cast the nets and return the following day to untangle the fish individually by hand.
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A pow-wow is held at a neighboring reserve which, unlike Lake St. Martin, continues to observe traditional practices.

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A dead duck lies still after being shot at Lake St. Martin reserve.
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Stephen Tyo lights fireworks as he visits Lake St. Martin on the day that happens to be National Aboriginal Day on June 21, 2013.
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Evacuee Becky Sinclair from Lake St. Martin kisses her boyfriend Larry Spence at a night out at a Winnipeg hotel which is home to evacuees.
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Nearly 3 years after the flood Lake St. Martin residents continue to be displaced.

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