MARATHON – Special to NetNewsledger.com – First Nations’ Elder Diane Richmond woke up this morning, eager to join some new friends for breakfast. Wednesday, July 20th, Richmond met some of the 230 evacuees who had come to Marathon after being forced from their homes in Sandy Lake, a First Nations community approximately 227 km from Red Lake, by forest fires and smoke. Richmond had been recruited, by the Town of Marathon, as a volunteer who would assist in welcoming the visitors and ensure their stay was as enjoyable as possible in such a difficult situation.
This morning Friday July 22, Richmond went over to visit with guests as they had breakfast. As she realized most of the morning was gone, she also realized she was no longer sitting with ‘evacuees’ or ‘visitors’ she was sitting with people who had quickly become her friends.
The amicable conversation which had filled their morning included many topics; the Sandy Lake residents of course had some concerns but “those are being addressed and attended to” assured Richmond. She was most impressed that “They seem in high spirits in spite of some of them being separated from family members due to the phases of their evacuation”.
Her new friends had shared with her details of the evacuation process “Phase One evacuees included any one with respiratory conditions, heart conditions, dissabilities, elders, babies and pre-natal mothers. Phase Two evacuees were children 5yrs of age and under who travelled with their Mom or other adult escort” finally, Richmond explained, the remaining Sandy Lake members were transported to host communities “Phase Three was everyone else – those who had not been evacuated during Phase One or Phase Two.” Relaying their experiences Richmond was clearly moved remembering the personal stories which accompanied the evacuees summary of the experiences.
One of the evacuated families Richmond had the opportunity to learn more about was The Crowe Family. Elton Crowe, now staying in Marathon, is seperated from his wife Gladys who is in Sioux Lookout, and from his two month old baby Rubena who travelled with her Mom, the pair (Gladys and Baby Reubena) were Phase 2 evacuees. Meanwhile Elton and is his two sons Robert (7 years old), and Rylen (9 years old), travelled as Phase 3 evacuees which meant they landed in Marathon Wednesday night, more than 650km from where his wife and infant daughter had been sent. Of course Elton and Gladys were grateful that their young family was now safe as fire had been just 7km from their home. Their community had not been left vacant; Crowe explained to Richmond that there were approximately 20 people who had chosen to stay behind, this included Chief Adam Fiddler and other band staff. Crowe had been making the most of this unexpected trip, Thursday he enjoyed an afternoon of golfing was spending most of the time with his sons.
Elder Diane Richmond continues to visit her new friends from Sandy Lake (a.k.a. the evacuees) hoping that her ready ear and liason services can help make their stay a little less stressful. She feels very honoured that some of the younger ones from Sandy Lake have been calling her “Granny”. Those who are familar with Richmond will know that she became a grandmother later than some of the women on her reserve as her daughters had chosen to attend university and earn their degrees before starting families. Richmond is an active volunteer in Marathon and in Pic River First Nations; she is a strong advocate of women empowering themselves, of the importance of family and community. Richmond says the experience of working with the evacuees has been very fufilling as she has learned much from her new friends; she encourages anyone who is hesitant to volunteer to call the Marathon recreation complex and give their name “You will get as much as you give anytime you work as a volunteer and this is no exception” explained Richmond.
Published with permission from Ontario News North.