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Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby returns to Yellowknife as advisor to Ndilo chief; YKDFN says otherwise

UPDATE: NNSL has asked Katrina Nokleby for evidence she was working with incoming Dettah Chief Ernest Betsina. She said she stands by her statements and that everything she said was true.
Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby is back in Yellowknife as an essential worker, advising the incoming YKDFN chief on a number of issues. NNSL file photo

UPDATE: NNSL has asked Katrina Nokleby for evidence she was working with incoming Dettah Chief Ernest Betsina. She said she stands by her statements and that everything she said was true.

Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby has left Yellowknife after claiming last week that she allowed entry into the city as an essential worker on behalf of incoming Dettah chief Enest Betsina. Her claim was disputed after the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, which includes Dettah, says the MLA was not authorized to work in any Yellowknives community.

Nokleby, who says she was acting as a geological engineering advisor to Betsina, was able to get past the road blocks preventing non-essential workers from re-entering the city. Betsina won the election for chief of Dettah last month and will replace Ed Sangris, the current chief of Dettah.

“I came in on Wednesday (Aug. 23),” she said. “I’ll be able to give them some good advice on how to bring the people back and as well as help them navigate a lot of the government, bureaucracy and things that I’ve been learning as I’ve been helping and advocating for my constituents in the south.

“To be very clear — I have not broken any rules coming back here.”

She said she was advised though Municipal and Community Affairs to offer her services to the evacuation and relief effort. Because of her experience as geological engineer and 13 years in project management logistics, she asked Betsina if he would like her assistance and said he was happy to bring her on board.

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation, though, issued a statement Aug. 25 through Gaurav Kaushish, its chief executive officer, staing that Nokleby was not doing any work whatsoever with the First Nation.

“The Chiefs and Council of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation have not had contact with MLA Katrina Nokleby on the matter of her return to Yellowknife,” he said. “Only essential staff is allowed to return to the city to provide emergency support to all the agencies and staff working here to keep the wildfires at bay and the communities safe. We would like to emphasize that Ms. Nokleby is not an essential worker for YKDFN and she has not been provided any authorization from the First Nation to gain access to the communities of Dettah and N’dilo.”

Betsina could not be reached for comment. He is currently not in an active political role until he is sworn in.

Nokleby says she’s still working as an MLA as well, She says she’s fielded hundreds of calls each day from people from across the territory and has been working with constituents and other Northerners to locate evacuated people who are currently unaccounted for. She said there were 70 that she was aware of.

She also disputed the notion people were getting kicked out of hotels because of their behaviour, noting a lot of the hotel rooms were only booked for three or four days and the rooms were then booked by other hotel customers.

A notification on the GNWT’s latest update confirms this, reading: “Some residents who are staying in accommodations provided by Alberta Registration Centres may be asked to relocate or change hotels. We understand that being asked to check out of a hotel you have settled into as an evacuee is frustrating. However, some hotels have existing bookings that must be honoured, resulting in the need for evacuees to seek different accommodations. If this has happened to you, please check in with an evacuation centre that has the capacity to support evacuees in order to get assistance finding different accommodations. If you have been paying for your accommodations and can no longer do so, please go to an evacuation centre that has the capacity to support evacuees for assistance in finding accommodations. Refunds for previous accommodations will not be provided, but alternate accommodations can be arranged.”

Nokleby cautioned Northerners that regular MLAs most likely won’t get any input into the drafting of a compensation program said to be up for discussion at an Aug. 28 emergency sitting of the Legislative Assembly in Inuvik.

“They don’t come to us,” she said. “We didn’t get any heads up. The premier thought she was dropping news on us at 5:30 about the evacuation. And I have known since 10 a.m. that morning, because they were telling all their staff.

“So when people come to me and say ‘You guys did this,’ no, we did not. Cabinet did this. The minister did this. They are the ones responsible, not the regular members. We’re just trying our best to figure out how do we help people that are losing their minds in the south.

“The mental health of our people is terrible at the moment and this government just keeps raining blows on them. It’s insane to me. I‘m really struggling to wrap my head around how they could do this to people that were so fragile already after COVID-19 and forest fires and flooding. My friend hasn’t seen his child, who’s now two, has not seen one of his birthday parties yet, because he’s been evacuated both times out of Hay River.

“I hope there’s an inquiry, I will be asking for one.”

Nokleby and her four cats had been staying at a friend’s house in Behchoko, but the community was starting to run out of food and is unable to drive into Yellowknife to re-supply, so she decided she was being a drain on the community’s already stretched thin resources. She added that even if something happened to her in Behchoko and she needed to be medevaced out of the territory, she would still be medevaced from Yellowknife.

As for the conditions in Yellowknife, Nokleby said it was smokey around town but she had not seen any smoke or fire in the drive back, though she noted she drove from Behchoko.

“I don’t feel a huge sense of urgency,” she said. “I’ve seen people playing frisbee. It doesn’t strike me that the town is about to burn down by any means.”

Nokleby advised people down south to look at their skills and speak to MACA about what they can offer to leadership in Yellowknife and other evacuated communities.

“Jump through the MACA hoops,” she said. “Write the minister of MACA. Write the Emergency Management Organization and ask how do I get deemed essential. That’s what I did.”

About the Author: Eric Bowling

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