An ʔaq̓am family has launched a crowdfunding campaign, hoping to rebuild after losing their home in the St. Mary’s River wildfire that ripped through the community a week ago.
A GoFundMe campaign, created by Nakita Sebastian, has been launched for Rachelle Sebastian and Patrick Nicholas, who lost their home and everything in it shortly after the wildfire started on Monday, July 17.
ʔaq̓am administration issued evacuation orders for 52 homes, as firefighters from the community, Cranbrook, Kimberley and the BC Wildfire Service raced to respond to the wildfire that was driven across the landscape by heavy winds and destroyed seven homes.
Blaine Burgoyne, Rachelle Sebastian’s nephew, spoke on behalf of the family, during a media availability on Tuesday in ʔaq̓am, describing the history of the home and how the loss has impacted everyone.
“Auntie Rachelle’s home was a foundation for not only her immediate family, but for our extended family,” Burgoyne said. “Her home was a five-generational home build by the Department of Indian Affairs for my great grandpa Mark Sebastian in 1970.
“This home housed his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, including my grandmother Sherry, Great Uncles Gordie and Troy, my mom Shelley, my aunt Rachelle, Julia and uncle Curt…
“In 1999, my Auntie Rachelle, her husband Patrick and their two children Nakita and Yhance moved into the house. Within the 10 years she brought the home into code and added an addition, making it the home it was.”
But in the face of tragedy, there is strength and resilience as the family plans to rebuild the home, while the ʔaq̓am community has rallied around each other.
“Losing this home is losing a big part of our family history,” Burgoyne said. “As Ktunaxa people, we have lived on these lands since time immemorial. With such a loss, it has brought our family closer, which encourages us to stand and re-build. Because that is who Ktunaxa people are.”
The GoFundMe for Rachelle Sebastian and Patrick Nicholas is a verified campaign that will go directly to the family.
“These donations will really help to get them onto their feet, add stability and and help future plans to rebuild their home,” Burgoyne added.
So far, the family has raised over $5,000 from 60 donors.
In the immediate aftermath of the wildfire, there were concerns about bogus campaigns, as ʔaq̓am Nasuʔkin (Chief) Joe Pierre Jr. told media that at least two bad-faith GoFundMe pages had sprung up soliciting donations that were not being raised for the community or community members.
Donations to assist the ʔaq̓am community are being welcomed, which can be made by directly contacting Ivan Winters, Director of Finance, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The amount of support we’ve received from our surrounding communities is overwhelming,” Burgoyne said. “They’ve shown an endless amount of generous support and donations by offering food, clothes, needed essentials and shelter, including taking our pets and and livestock for the time being.”
Burgoyne’s home was one of the 16 homes that were downgraded from an evacuation order to an evacuation alert, as he was able to return home with his grandmother.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 36 homes remain under an evacuation order and 25 homes are under evacuation alert in the ʔaq̓am community.
The St. Mary’s River wildfire, burning at 4,093 hectares, has been held by control lines overnight Monday and into Tuesday, as firefighters continue to patrol the perimeter and respond to spot fires.
The RDEK also has issued a number of evacuation orders and alerts in response to the St. Mary’s River wildfire. RDEK evacuation orders include 15 properties in the Woods Corner east area. Hundreds of evacuation alerts for areas north of the fire’s perimeter, as well as south across the St. Mary’s River in the Campsall Rd, Fort Steele area, and Greater Wasa.
Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.