Whatì mailboxes next to bread for sale in 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief Jackson Lafferty says his government may need help from the south after the Yellowknife supply chain to smaller communities appeared to break.
With evacuation orders ongoing for more than half a dozen NWT communities threatened by wildfires, including the territorial capital, residents in smaller communities say they are worried about access to food and other essential goods.
Earlier this week, the general manager of the Łútsël K’é Co-op said the store was “stressed to the seams” as it was unable to keep its shelves stocked. The store manager said the community had to pay for a costly charter to bring freight from Edmonton in the absence of the usual daily flights from Yellowknife.
Communities in the territory’s Tłı̨chǫ region are also feeling the strain.
One resident of Behchokǫ̀, who asked Cabin Radio that they not be identified, said they were driving to Costco in Edmonton to stock up on groceries.
“There’s not too much available back home right now,” she said from High Level.
“When food comes in, people buy it right away.
“We don’t normally just take off and go for a grocery run, but we kind-of felt like we can’t get the things that we need right now.”
The woman said when food is available in Behchokǫ̀, there are limits on how much bread and how many eggs people can buy, and items are more expensive than normal. While milk used to cost $6, she said it now costs $15.
“I know that people are struggling,” she said. “We’ve even heard Elders saying they’ve never seen groceries so scarce.”
Residents aren’t able to drive into Yellowknife to get supplies as usual, as the road into the city is closed to all traffic except front-line workers. The Co-op is the only grocery store still operating in Yellowknife, remaining open to serve essential staff that remain.
“We’re alone,” Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief Jackson Lafferty told Cabin Radio earlier this week.
“It’s a very difficult position to be in as a community, as a leader of the community.
“We’re still living in Behchokǫ̀ and they shut down all the essential supplies like food and medical and gas stations and so forth. It’s very challenging right now.”
He said the Co-op had opened for a couple of days to help people get supplies, “but we don’t know how long this will last – whether it’ll be a week or two weeks – and we could definitely run out of supplies.”
Lafferty said residents in Tłı̨chǫ communities need goods such as diapers, milk and vegetables, which are not currently accessible. He said Tłı̨chǫ leadership plans to reach out to southern organizations about delivering groceries.
“We’re still here. We’re still living in the North. We need those essential services,” Lafferty said, “and the GNWT just picked up and went.”
The CBC reported on Tuesday that Fort Resolution was also struggling with grocery resupply as a wildfire threatens Hay River and the road into the community is closed. Cabin Radio was unable to reach Fort Resolution leaders for comment.
In an email to Cabin Radio on Tuesday night, the territorial government stated staff had been in communication with communities, airlines and food suppliers to ensure regular shipments continue.
The NWT government said it had also established a working group to address issues related to community supply chains and food security.
The North West Company, whose operations include North Mart and Northern stores in the NWT, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.