The people of Lake St. Martin First Nation lived on their land for hundreds of years. That all changed in 2011, when the government of Manitoba diverted flood waters onto their territory in order to save Winnipeg. It flooded their homes and threatened their traditional way of life. It left 1,400 people displaced in their own country, forced to live a life of limbo that has continued to this day. Photographer Michelle Siu has spent years documenting the human toll and resilience of Lake St. Martin.
Mould seeps through the ceilings of a home at the Lake St. Martin reserve. The homes have since been condemned and torn down.
Kassidy Pelletier, 16, walks through her childhood home on the reserve to see the house before it is demolished. Kassidy was doing dishes in this kitchen when she heard about the evacuation; on her short return visit, she found her house had been looted and vandalized, like many other homes on the reserve.
A water-filled road on Lake St. Martin reserve.
Twelve-year-old Bille-Rose Sanderson sits in the room at Place Louis Riel hotel that she shares with her mother. One other evacuee her age resides in the hotel while other families are dispersed across the city. Without a vehicle she and her mother are more isolated to the hotel and unable to visit family and friends.
Families which are used to living in a small community are now dispersed across the city and children wake up at early hours to be picked up at a make-shift school for Lake St. Martin students that run from kindergarten to grade nine.
Margaret Traverse, who has lived on Lake St. Martin Reserve all her life and has been shuffled to numerous hotels over the past two years, speaks on the phone as house keeping cleans her hotel room.
Margaret Traverse prays at a Christian church service in Winnipeg. She attends church services multiple times a week as it is one of the few opportunities she has to leave her hotel, located far from the city centre.
Lake St. Martin band members watch as election votes for their chief and council are tabulated. Incumbent Chief Adrian Sinclair was re-elected at the makeshift Lake St. Martin school in Winnipeg. The long displacement has divided the community in many ways and this was palpable during the elections.
Four students graduate grade nine at Lake St. Martin school in Winnipeg. The evacuation and the transition into city life particularly impacts teens as the school saw grade nine attendance drop from 18 students in 2011 to six in 2012 and four in 2013.
Diane Sinclair, 47 years, whose 21-year-old daughter Alexis took her life weeks after the evacuation, visits her daughter’s grave with her granddaughter Danielle Sinclair-Traverse at the now-condemned Lake St. Martin reserve. The mother of nine cares for the four-year-old following her daughter’s death. At least 92 community members have died during the past six years and are never to return to their ancestral land.
Commercial fisherman Gordon Beardy, right, and Clifford Sumner, left, stand in a boat full of pickerel as they fish on Dauphin River near Lake St. Martin reserve. Clifford has been fishing since he was a child and this is his first season back since the evacuation. The men cast the nets and return the following day to untangle the fish individually by hand.
Four-year-old Danielle Sinclair-Traverse tours the old flooded out Lake St. Martin school with her grandmother. Due to the condition of the school students had used classroom portables prior to the evacuation.