Making evacuation spaces safe for Elders, gender-diverse, women, goal of research
- NC Raine | March 12, 2021
Individuals evacuated from their communities due to a disaster face a multitude of anxieties, and as such, a new research initiative is working to ensure their gender and cultural needs are met during these times of distress.
The First Nation and Metis Health Research Network (FMHRN), based at the University of Saskatchewan, has received a $650,000 grant from the 2020 TD Ready Challenge which awarded 15 organizations to address impacts and inequities resulting from COVID-19.
The research will help emergency response planners better meet the needs of Elders, women, children, and gender-diverse individuals, particularly at evacuation sites and during COVID-19 restrictions.
“We know there's a gap in understanding the lived experience from people who have been through these evacuations in the past,” said Dr. Caroline Tait, a medical anthropologist and co-lead of the project.
“We're interested in how we can make the evacuation experience a positive experience. People are dealing with a lot of worry and trauma of being evacuated, so how do we make a safe space? And (we want) Indigenous people looking after Indigenous people who are evacuated.”
Tait said that as evacuation sometimes leads to family members being separated, they want to ensure children and youth are kept with their parents.
They will also look at safety in a variety of contexts. Physical safety can be an issue when evacuees find themselves in new, unfamiliar surroundings, and cultural safety is increased when responders are familiar with the language and providing appropriate foods. Gender safety is particularly an issue for gender-diverse individuals and women and girls who may be exposed to sexual harm.
Notions about individuals from northern communities may also be affected by COVID-19, said Tait.
“We know there will be a stigma now associated with Indigenous people coming from the north. The questions will be, are communities like Prince Albert and Saskatoon open and want to have the evacuees coming into the community?” she said. “Public opinion often goes against Indigenous people.”
Co-lead of the research project, Dr. Simon Lambert, said the pandemic emphasizes the multiple risks and hazards evacuees are exposed to.
“Social distancing will double the amount of buses you need, double the amount of space taken up. It will run the risk of putting people more at risk from COVID than perhaps if you left them in a community in the first place,” said Lambert.
“Our response is going to be culturally framed. We're going to recognize the cultural processes of elders, we're going to care for people the way they should be cared for. What our funding has allowed us to do is look at the complexities of these communities. It's not one-size-fits-all.”
In order to train first responders and emergency managers in gender and cultural safety, research network will work with community partners in the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and Metis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) to help develop services and training to institutions such as the Canadian Red Cross and Saskatchewan Emergency Planners Association.
“I think the outcome would be when the community has to evacuate from whatever emergency or disaster, that they are confident that all their community members will be cared for in a safe and respectful manner,” said Lambert.