When brother-sister filmmakers Janelle and Jérémie Wookey set out to make a documentary about evacuees from Little Saskatchewan First Nation displaced by Manitoba’s 2011 flood, the scope was initially limited.
“We were going to tell the story of one of the hotels that was housing some of the evacuees from a Little Saskatchewan,” Janelle Wookey said.
What resulted was Treading Water: Plight of the Manitoba First Nation Flood Evacuees, the story of evacuees still displaced from their homes three years later. It is scheduled to air on CBC tomorrow, Aug. 23, at 7:30 p.m.
Janelle co-wrote and directed the documentary with her brother, who was the director of photography and editor, as a co-production between their company Wookey Films and Nüman Films.
The evacuees they interviewed for the film were caught in a situation beyond their control.
“Comments on articles about the issue, about all the money that was getting spent and about how the government was dealing with it…all the comments on these articles online were incredibly thoughtless and racist and overwhelmingly blaming the evacuees for the situation that they were in,” said Janelle.
And though the situation as a whole has received plenty of media coverage, the evacuees themselves weren’t always the focus.
One of the dominant themes the filmmakers heard when talking with evacuees was a sense of powerlessness.
“There’s not a heck of a lot they were in a position to do other than attend protests, which understandably they got sick of after a year and a half,” Janelle says. “They were coming from a place where they had lived as neighbours with their friends and family in the country and then you put them in a hotel room and you separate families that’s extremely traumatic for people from this community. So it was extremely difficult and extremely frustrating that they were left in that position for so long.”
Filming wrapped last October, but the situation hasn’t changed a lot for the evacuees, some of whose children spent the first few years of their lives knowing no home other than a hotel.
“Most of them are in rental units in North End Winnipeg but there’s still some scattered in some hotels throughout Winnipeg and rural Manitoba,” says Janelle.
Little Saskatchewan First Nation is situated 255 kilometres north of Winnipeg on the western shore of Lake St. Martin.