Risa Johansen has formed the Chinook Emergency Response Society (CERS) so that her community is prepared if another disaster like last summer’s wildfires strikes again.
Instead of waiting for outside authorities to come to the rescue, her new group strives to organize the communities of the Southside into a network so that people know what to do when disasters arise.
Johansen, who is the Chairperson of CERS and also owns Takysie Lake Resort, told Lakes District News that the group’s core purpose is preparedness, which specifically encompasses emergency skills training, evacuation plans and information gathering.
The difficult experiences her community faced amid the evacuations and firefighting efforts last summer were also part of her motivation to form CERS.
“I do really want to work with the government agencies involved,” she said. “I want to help them help us. But we want to be proactive in protecting our communities.”
Membership of CERS includes anyone in the Electoral Area E communities of Francois Lake, Grassy Plains, Ootsa Lake and Wisteria, among others.
The society’s name is based on the concept behind the Chinook trade language, a creole of English, French and northwest coast Indigenous languages that was widely spoken from the Yukon to Oregon in the 1800s.
“Today we’re using the Chinook name dealing with the forest language and firefighting language, kind of a communication between the natives and non-natives to address today’s problem,” said Ray Morris, chief of the Nee-Tahi-Buhn band.
As an example of how CERS would spring into action, Johansen explained that each community in the society would have a local leader in charge of spreading emergency information.
“I can call seven or 10 leaders and say ‘lightning just struck 4 kilometres west of us.’ And they in turn can let their communities know about the lightning, and people are then aware. Last summer one of the biggest problems was no one knew where the fire was.”
Johansen stresses that emergency policies – whether communities defend their property themselves or choose to leave – should be in place on the community level before disaster strikes.
“‘Stay and defend’ or ‘leave early’ but be prepared either one ahead of time,” she said.
CERS’ has had two public meetings since early October, which were held at the restaurant in Takysie Lake and were joined by around 25 people, including representatives from the Cheslatta, Skin Tyee and Nee-Tahi-Buhn First Nations.
The society’s growth has been steady so far, and a limited company and the Nee-Tahi-Buhn band each donated $1,000.
Johansen plans to ramp up the society’s organization and the “ultimate goal is for everyone to have sprinklers or a water source. These are all doable things. But it takes time and planning and professionalism.”
The organization’s next meeting is on Dec. 6.