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Aboriginals ignored during flood dangers, chief says

Manitoba's top aboriginal leader says first nations are being ignored by the federal and provincial governments even though hundreds of homes have been flooded and 1,300 people forced from their reserves by the swollen Red River.

Grand Chief Ron Evans says many Manitoba towns are surrounded by permanent dikes and Winnipeg is protected by a floodway that diverts water around the city. But some aboriginal reserves don't have any kind of protection despite flooding virtually every year.

"We're taking the brunt of it," the head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in an interview yesterdauy. "It seems like there is very little attention given to the first nations, either by the Prime Minister or the Premier or Minister of Indian Affairs. They should make some effort ... to help the first nations deal with the flooding issue."

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About 2,300 people in Manitoba have been forced from their homes by flooding. Almost 1,300 of those evacuees are from first nations communities.

The province estimates at least 500 homes have been damaged so far. About 300 of those houses are on the Peguis reserve about 250 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

The Red River this year has reached some of the highest water levels on record. Forecasters say it has crested in much of the province but it will take weeks for flood waters that cover 1,600 square kilometres to recede.

The river, which is normally about 200 metres wide, has swelled to 22 kilometres wide in some parts.

"That's a lot of land under water," said senior flood forecaster Alf Warkentin. "Normal is a long way away."

Reserves are already plagued by a shortage of adequate housing, Chief said. Flooding adds to the problem and leaves residents to deal with mould and water damage.

But neither the federal government nor the province appear eager to take responsibility, he said.

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"We always seem to be caught in these jurisdictional disputes. That's no excuse for leaving people and not dealing with their issues. We shouldn't allow jurisdictional disputes to affect their health and safety."

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