From left: CKLB's Mariah Caruso, Ian Down and Eden Maury. Photo: Submitted via Windspeaker
Evacuated back to her hometown in Ontario from the Northwest Territories, CKLB radio editor Mariah Caruso lay in bed wondering what the station’s team of two could do for community members fleeing wildfires.
“What can we do well? And what can we do timely?” Caruso contemplated. Other outlets were doing the news, but “if there’s something CKLB has always done, and leaned into, it’s communities.”
CKLB says it airs programming to 33 communities in five dialects – Denesuline, Gwich’in, Tłı̨chǫ, Dehcho and Sahtu Dene.
Caruso began reaching out to community members from CKLB’s audience, which stretches from northern Alberta to the Arctic Ocean. With nine communities evacuated, “I thought, we gotta find a way to connect those that have been displaced to members back home.”
By the end of the day, Caruso was working on a new program titled Evacuation Station, just with an iPad and phone, with plans to borrow her sister’s computer for better radio sound editing software.
Through social media, the station reached out to evacuees and quickly had a dozen stories of silver-lining experiences – the good things happening that came as a result of the evacuations.
“It’s a really great way to give some hope, some light, some laughter, a different tone back to what Denendeh needs right now,” Caruso said.
She paired the silver linings with news and country music. The CKLB audience is “huge on their country music,” Caruso said. “They love that.”
Along with the songs and shoutouts, CKLB would air stories that amplified the strength and resilience of northerners.
Though she had few resources, she had a big commitment to the listeners. And she has received a “really positive response.” She’s planning to air the program until evacuees return home.
“The silver linings are everything. I’ve had people tell me already they’ve reconnected with family they hadn’t seen in over 20 years,” she said.
One such story put on air is from Eden Maury, Caruso’s colleague at CKLB, about not being able to visit her brother. That was “until the fires had brought them together. Serendipitous moments,” says Caruso.
“My family is from Dettah and Ndılǫ,” said Maury. “I was reunited with my brother that I haven’t seen for 20 years. Because of the fires, because of the evacuation, I ended up in Edmonton and I was reunited with my brother.”
If evacuees would like to send a hello to a loved one, request a favourite song for a neighbour, or share good experiences, they can connect by emailing Mariah Caruso or Ian Down or by calling 867-766-2552, extension 108.