The inaugural First Nations First Responders Gathering in Ottawa brought together Indigenous fire protection and emergency responder leadership to explore how best to address increasing fire dangers faced by First Nations.
Participants also included First Nations Chiefs, fire chiefs and emergency first responders, as well as Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse. Valerie Gideon, Associate Deputy Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, attended the event on behalf of The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Ministry of Indigenous Services.
The event featured panel discussions on topics, including; options for introducing fire protection legislation and codes; wildland fire threats and responses; funding needs to improve First Nation fire departments; effective fire prevention strategies; and volunteer fire and wildfire fighting recruitment and more.
“Every year, First Nations communities experience fires that could have been prevented or mitigated with adequate infrastructure, resources, and support. Fire services in First Nations communities are frequently faced with insufficient resources and inadequate funding to meet the needs of our populations,” said Woodhouse. “In Canada, Indigenous people living in First Nation communities are 10 times more likely to die from a fire, according to 2021 Vital Statistics. The release of the First Nations Fire Protection Strategy for 2023 to 2028 is a critical step in ensuring the safety and well-being of our communities. I look forward to the positive change this Strategy will bring as we work together with the Government of Canada to protect First Nations.”
The Gathering also saw the release of a First Nations Fire Protection Strategy for 2023 to 2028—the first such strategy jointly developed by the AFN and Indigenous Services Canada. The new strategy builds on earlier strategies to combat increasing risks from climate change and promotes modern technology to plan, track and manage fire prevention. It works to enhance fire safety for First Nations people living off-reserve through partnerships with local governments, First Nations technical organizations, and nearby First Nations. It includes input from First Nations fire experts, First Nations community and Tribal Council leadership, as well as the National Indigenous Fire Safety Council (NIFSC), First Nations Technical Service organizations and other fire protection professionals.
“This year, as in years past, far too many First Nations have suffered devastating losses from tragic fatal fires that have left communities grieving and looking for answers. These senseless tragedies could have been prevented,” said Hajdu. “This Gathering and the new Fire Protection Strategy, which has been co-developed with the Assembly of First Nations, are critical to saving lives and keeping First Nations communities safe. Thank you to stakeholders from across the country who attended the Gathering and contributed your expertise and participated in this important work. As Minister, you have my commitment that I will continue to advocate for and support the implementation of Indigenous-led solutions. Today is an important first step, but we need to rapidly take further action. Lives depend on it.”
In addition, for this fiscal year, Indigenous Services Canada announced $10 million in new funding to support community-based needs. This is an immediate step the government is taking to support the objectives of the Fire Protection Strategy released today. Initiatives covered will include education and prevention, smoke alarm installations, inspections for non-Indigenous Services Canada-funded buildings, firefighter training and fire department communication projects.
Fire safety continues to be a serious issue for First Nations communities, especially for the most vulnerable individuals. The First Responders Gathering and the new First Nations Fire Protection Strategy are elements of larger, long-term solutions to better address fire threats and help protect children and their family members from losing their lives in a fire that could have been prevented. Working together with First Nations organizations including the AFN, and Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners in fire prevention and protection and emergency response, the Government of Canada will continue to take urgent action to improve fire safety prevention and protection on reserve.