Kanehsata’kehró:non with homes on the water are dealing with flooding and anxiety this week as water levels have risen, but the devastation of the 2017 and 2019 floods is expected to be avoided.
As of Thursday afternoon, Lake of Two Mountains was considered by the Quebec government to be experiencing a major flood, with a measurement of 24.38 metres and rising at Pointe Calumet, nearly a full metre above the minor flood threshold of 23.5 metres.
Meanwhile, data from the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board (ORRPB) accessed yesterday shows daily increases in water flow upstream at Carillon since Sunday.
The flow measured yesterday, 7,930 cubic metres per second, is more than double the median flow of 3,856 cubic metres. However, forecasts show there should soon be reprieve. “Water levels and flows are expected to stabilize into the weekend and should start to decline slowly into next week with the return of sunny and drier weather,” reads a press release from the ORRPB.
In response to the flooding, the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) mobilized the Perimeter Security Team and called for volunteers to distribute and fill sandbags to block the water from breaching local homes. The plan was put in motion on Tuesday afternoon, by which time water was already rising onto the land of some Kanehsata’kehró:non.
“You hope for the best, plan for the worst,” said MCK chief Brant Etienne on Tuesday afternoon. “With our capacity right now, we should be able to deal with what’s coming our way, barring something unforeseen.”
The MCK had multiple meetings alongside department heads early this week to plan out a response, and according to Etienne, arrangements were made last week for three loads of sand to be set aside for bagging. Recent discord on Council did not interfere with the response, he said.
“Generally, in emergencies, everybody puts their A-game on and gets to work,” said Etienne, although he noted Thursday it seems he has subsequently been left out of planning meetings.
MCK chief Amy Beauvais was one of the community members bagging sand this week using a machine purchased by the disbanded Emergency Response Unit (ERU).
“For flooding purposes, we’re still ahead of the flood,” she said on Tuesday, adding that MCK met to reassess the situation and implement a plan of action.
“Perimeter Security and Public Works, we’re working together trying to manage this crisis at the moment,” said Perimeter Security Team supervisor Megan Gabriel.
“We’re just bagging and going. Hopefully it stops tomorrow,” said Gabriel on Wednesday.
She said Perimeter Security staff were in all-hands-on-deck mode Wednesday trying to help the affected houses, starting with the ones hit worst.
A handful of volunteers were also helping out with the response.
“Community strength is what we need in times of crisis,” said volunteer Raymond St. Gelais, who helped out after an eight-hour shift at his regular job.
“A little gesture can make a big difference to someone in need, and one day it might be my turn where I’m needing help.”
The flooding comes after weeks of concern over increased runoff into the Ottawa River, however, leading some to suggest that the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) was not adequately prepared to respond.
“Last flood they were more prepared,” said St. Gelais. “This year they waited until the last minute to activate.”
Kanehsata’kehró:non Marie-Claude Bernard spent the week worried for her mother, who lives on Kanesatake land in Oka village. Her mother did not receive sandbags until Thursday morning, by which time the water was already well up onto her property, not to mention the street.
“Because of the water in the road in front of her, if she has an emergency or heart attack or something like that, the ambulance won’t go there because the ambulance won’t go in the flood,” said Bernard.
When the sandbags finally came, there were not enough, Bernard said. However, by yesterday afternoon the job had been finished with sufficient sandbags and plastic.
She said she first requested sandbags for her mother around two weeks ago, asking publicly on the Kanehsatake Community Discussion Group for the bags to be provided by MCK.
Bernard was also dissatisfied that there was no location designated for evacuation in case it had been necessary, unlike in previous floods.
Adding to her fears about potential damage if flooding continues, Bernard, who used to lead the MCK’s finance department, said her mother is still waiting for repairs from the previous flood, despite money being made available to Council.
Funding is provided to the MCK for flooding through the Emergency Management Assistance Program (EMAP) through Indigenous Services Canada (ISC).
“Flooding can be devastating for communities, and ISC continues to work with Kanesatake First Nation, Indigenous services organizations, partners, and the province of Quebec’s Public Safety to ensure critical supports are in place,” said ISC spokesperson Randy Legault-Rankin.
According to Legault-Rankin, the MCK received $56,200 in 2019-2020 to implement measures including water-guard systems and mitigation for houses that are at risk of flooding, as well as sandbag and concrete barrier storage.
“Following the 2017 and 2019 floods, the Kanesatake community has invested a great deal of energy in building local resilience to flooding with financial support, coaching, and guidance from ISC,” said Legault-Rankin.
The same supports continue to be offered to Kanesatake, he added.
“Further assistance provided is determined based on the assessment of available local capacity and the challenges presented by the situation,” he said.
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.