by Kinnukana, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – A week has passed since Yellowknife, Ndılǫ, Dettah and Ingraham Trail residents were ordered to evacuate from the Northwest Territories due to wildfires threatening the communities. Many residents fled the North to Alberta by vehicle on the one and only highway out, and they helped each other by providing families and friends with rides. Evacuees fled in good faith that they would be assisted while away from home and to return when it is safe to do so.
At the time, residents were told that they have multiple options available to them for evacuation but were highly encouraged to travel by vehicle and find their own accommodations. In the evacuation notice issued by the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT), it states: “Only residents who do not have the option to leave the area by road are asked to register for evacuation flights.”
One week later, after residents complied with the evacuation order and saved the government thousands in evacuation costs by using their own transportation and finding their own accommodations, the GNWT announced that they will not be offering financial support to those evacuees, including not helping them to cover the costs of returning to the North.
At a GNWT wildfire update on Monday, August 21, Jennifer Young, director of corporate affairs for the territory’s municipal and community affairs department, said, “People who relied on the N.W.T.’s evacuation flights will have assistance returning when the order is lifted. If you self-evacuated on your own means, the expectation will be that you re-enter on your own means.” Ms. Young also told evacuees to look into their insurance policies to help cover expenses, but there are many parameters to making a claim, including having to pay a deductible. The claims process is also time consuming, and evacuees may not be compensated for months, especially since there will be a high number of claims being made.
Many evacuees are concerned about this lack of meaningful support from their territorial government. Evacuees have no idea how long they will be expected to remain outside the Northwest Territories, and it could take a few more weeks before they can go home. When evacuees left in a panic, they did not think about these costs and the reality is now starting to settle in and is taking a toll on their mental health. Many evacuees travelled south and are paying for their own hotels, meals and gas and were not expecting to be in this situation for a long period of time. They are now having to look to other organizations to help them and are thankful for the support from the Alberta Government, Red Cross Canada and various organizations and businesses contributing to this devastating situation.
Indigenous land claim governments have also stepped up to assist their members with aid, such as, but not limited to, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) provided Inuvialuit beneficiary households a one-time $1,000 payment; the Yellowknives Dene First Nation provided members $500 per vehicle and a purchase order for 200 litres of fuel; the Gwich’in Tribal Council provided $500 per adult and an additional $125 per dependent; The Tłı̨chǫ government provided $500 to citizens over 18 and $125 to those under 18; and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. provided $1,000 per household for affected Nunavut Inuit.
In an article on August 22, 2023, by Cabin Radio entitled NWT promises financial aid for evacuees who organized own escape, the NWT finance minister, Caroline Wawzonek stated, “It is apparent that people have driven their vehicles thousands of kilometres and that something is going to be needed to get them home.”
She also stated, “Are we going to have to do something to assist those folks who may have, certainly in these first few days, made their own arrangements thinking that that was the right pathway forward? It’s that cohort that I do recognize we may have to be looking at and considering something here.” However, no firm commitment to-date has been made by the Government of the Northwest Territories to assist these evacuees.