This article explores the 2011 emergency evacuation experiences of members of the Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation in northern Saskatchewan, Canada due to a rapidly encroaching forest fire. The mandatory evacuation exposed a standard protocol of risk triage to determine who was “at risk” that emphasized the immediate threat of smoke and fire and focused primarily on individuals with health and disability issues. However, the backbone of Dene social organization and stability, the extended family, was fragmented when individual family members were sent to different communities, which inhibited a more resilient response. Individuals considered initially to be at low risk, primarily younger adults, encountered a host of unanticipated difficulties during the evacuation. We argue that a more diachronic and emergent understanding of risk, one that is culturally and socially “safe”, is essential in order to ensure that evacuations utilize, rather than challenge, the existing social and cultural strengths of northern Aboriginal people.

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