Fort McPherson is grieving after five members of the community passed away in recent days.
Daniella Blake, Cheyenne Alexie, Tanya Koe, Daniel Robert and Elder James Martin have each died unexpectedly since the end of October.
George Nerysoo, who was elected to represent Fort McPherson as the Mackenzie Delta MLA on Tuesday, said the community was “going through so much at this time.”
“The community and the people have a lot to deal with,” he said.
Gwich’in Tribal Council Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik, a member of Fort McPherson’s Teetł’it Gwich’in First Nation, travelled to the community at the start of the week.
“It’s incredibly difficult. Almost all of them are young people,” Kyikavichik said.
“When communities are losing their young people, it’s especially troubling, because there’s a feeling that many of them have been taken long before their time.”
He said there was a “need for understanding … and trying to see where we can provide some additional level of support, because clearly people are struggling.”
The exact circumstances of each death have not been made public.
Funerals have been taking place in Fort McPherson, with one also scheduled in Yellowknife. An online virtual sharing circle was held to remember those who had passed away, and a sharing circle also took place in Whitehorse earlier this week.
Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Chief Pauline Frost said on Facebook she was thinking of “the immensity of the losses” in Fort McPherson.
“I am at a loss for words,.Grief is hard on all of us, particularly when you lose someone you love at such a young age,” Frost wrote.
“It’s time for us to speak up, work with our young people. They need us to be open and embrace them with their flaws, and support them when they need programs and treatment.”
“We need to be listening to what people are telling us,” said Kyikavichik.
“We need to have a level of compassion for individual situations and truly work to understand what may be going on – and from that understanding is where decisions can be made, or potential alternatives over the longer term.
“We have seen a trend: many of our people that have gone away to places like Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Edmonton – largely for education or employment opportunities – some of them are returning home for their service and celebration of life. It’s incredibly difficult for people.”
He said communities across the North are now “grappling with some very serious mental health and addictions issues, and it’s important that, as leadership, we do what we can to support those in need.”
The Gwich’in Tribal Council said it is providing bereavement assistance to families to help with some of the financial costs, and cultural support workers are available for any residents that require assistance.