When natural disaster strikes in British Columbia, more women, specifically First Nations women are expected to be on the front lines providing help. At least that’s what this weeks First Nations’ Emergency Services Society (FNESS) boot camp has shown.
People have come from across the province to Kamloops, B.C. to attend the emergency preparedness boot camp and a lot of them are women.
They’re tackling everything from learning about driving emergency vehicles to trailers, tiger dam and planning for the upcoming flood and wildfire seasons.
Many natural disasters happen on First Nations territory and the hope is that this boot camp will give community members the knowledge and tools to save their own land and people.
FNESS knows how important it is to respond to communities in a timely manner — they service 204 Nations across B.C. and need to be prepared for anything.
“We have a great crew, we started with 20 some people last year and we are up to 50-plus staff, and almost half are Indigenous women,” said boot camp participant Crystal Camille.
“It’s exciting,” adds Trudy Peterson, another boot camp participant. “You don’t see a lot of women but you’re starting to see more and more both in firefighting and response and they’re great at taking roles in leadership and planning and coordinating.”
And it’s important women get involved. In recent years, communities across British Columbia have been facing more emergency events and natural disasters because of climate change.
“Every First Nation needs this in their own community to promote safety, to be prepared and respond to those events in a safe manner,” said Peterson.
Peterson, a now “newly found teacher” hopes to see more women in leadership roles and sees events like the boot camp as an opportunity.
“We can do recruitment and bring in young women in to learn the ropes, getting out boots on the ground,” she said. “There are a lot of women that like this kind of work, being on the front lines, and the teamwork and camaraderie are great.”
Research is also aligned. A 2018 report — Women’s Leadership in Disaster Preparedness — said “Women are taking up a central role in community and grassroots decision-making … (and) including women in decision-making forums could help ensure greater visibility of the needs of most vulnerable groups.”
And Camille agrees. “Working together comes naturally,” she said. “I’m executive assistant to the executive director, but today I am part of the group, part of the trainees. And we’ve got some great instructors here — you couldn’t find anyone better in the province to train us Indigenous women.”
On the ground and in leadership roles is a natural place for Indigenous women; with culture being based on a matriarchy, Indigenous women were always very important. It was only colonization that changed that but communities and the women at FNESS are taking it back.
“I’m raising my girls to be strong Indigenous leaders,” said Camille. “It’s empowering to be here with other (women), learning all this stuff.”
“Everything I know I learned from my grandmother and other powerful women along the way — you can’t push us aside, we’re here.”
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