With the territorial capital evacuated, two Tłı̨chǫ communities say they are rationing food and waiting weeks for mail to come in.
“We can’t get any food in. Our last plane with food was on Monday,” said Fred Behrens, the senior administrative officer of Wekweètì, adding that milk and eggs were “gone within minutes” after that flight arrived.
The eggs, he added, were rationed to a dozen per household. Another flight arrived last Friday, but Behrens, said it brought only frozen pizzas.
The town of Wekweètì has around 140 residents. Small and isolated, with no year-round road access, it relies on flights from the nearest major city, Yellowknife, for most supplies.
Yellowknife was placed under an evacuation order because of a wildfire approaching from the west on August 16. So far, that fire has not reached the city and is now considered “being held” by the NWT’s wildfire agency. But the city’s airport and supply lines have been disrupted for more than two weeks.
“We’ve had mail service once in the last two and a half weeks, and that was last Monday, which came directly from Edmonton,” he said. (Canada Post has Wekweètì under a yellow alert, meaning “We are doing our best to deliver, but there may be delays.”)
Behrens said he fails to understand the reason for the delay in receiving mail and parcels – or for the evacuation of Yellowknife as a whole.
“There’s no reason for that evacuation … it was a total overreaction.,” he said, describing his own experience of evacuations as a veteran senior administrator – including a brief evacuation of Wekweètì because of a nearby wildfire earlier in the summer.
“They had a plan but they didn’t follow it,” he said of the City of Yellowknife, which spent months outlining a plan that focused on sheltering within the community before switching to an evacuation by road and air.
“They just threw everyone to the wind.”
Asked if he had raised his concerns with anyone at the NWT government, Behrens told Cabin Radio: “We can’t get a word out of anyone.” He said the Tłı̨chǫ Government was focused on helping evacuees.
Gamètì garden is a help
The NWT government said it was not monitoring frequency of food deliveries and the current status of food supplies in Tłı̨chǫ communities and had not received any concerns.
In Gamètì, senior administrator Sherbaz Muhammad described a similar situation. Muhammad said it has “been forever” since the community received anything.
“It’s like we are under a lockdown. No community member can come into Gamètì or leave,” Muhammad said. He said people who came to town for business can’t get out again.
Muhammad said he understands the need to protect the NWT’s capital, but its evacuation had left Gamètì and its people stranded.
“Pretty-much everything in the community revolves around Yellowknife … so you can imagine what the community might be going through when the city is not operational,” he said.
Like Wekweètì, Gamètì’s store is rationing food on a “first-come, first-serve basis.” Based on what is available for purchase, Muhammad is altering his own diet. A basic food item like bread is not available some days, he said.
While Muhammad doesn’t have any dietary restrictions, he believes other residents do, and may struggle to access what they need.
“No consideration has been given to the basic needs of these communities,” he said.
He said all four Tłı̨chǫ communities – Behchokǫ̀, Gamètì, Wekweètì and Whatì – had pitched in funds to have two charter planes fly in. The flights cost $50,000 each, he said.
Depending on the schedule, he hoped another charter plane might make it to the community on Sunday or Monday.
The good news? Gamètì’s community garden yielded a good vegetable harvest this year, which is helping to keep the town fed for the next few weeks, along with frozen fish stocks.
In the long term, Muhammad said the garden is not sufficient to meet the food needs of the community, and cannot be compared to facilities a typical store provides.
“Unfortunately, it’s not the 21st century Canada,” he said. “Even during Covid-19, the community wasn’t hit this bad.”