UPDATE: Gravel has been loaded into the bay and the Tsiigehtchic Ferry Land opened, with delays, on June 21.

Imagine being shipwrecked, watching ships pass by along the horizon, but never close enough for you to hop on and escape.

People in Tsiigehtchic don’t have to imagine that right now, as the community has been repeatedly isolated for close to a week after high water from the Mackenzie River washed out the charter community’s ferry launch. Since June 14, there has been no ferry access to the community and high water limited how much service was available prior to that.

Stephanie Cardinal-Clark has been watching the ferry move from the Fort McPherson side to the Inuvik side for a few days. She admits she’s getting frustrated waiting. Residents fortunate enough to own boats are able to get across and buy supplies, though it still isn’t easy.

“There’s no bread, eggs, produce or dairy products,” Cardinal-Clark said. “Everyone has to make extra arrangements to meet a taxi on Inuvik side.”

It’s not just food that’s limited in the community either. As there is no airport, the entire charter community is dependent on the ferry to bring in everything from mail to medicine. In the event of a medical emergency, the only option in or out is by helicopter.

Even traditional harvesting practices, such as hunting and fishing, are being stymied by the elements. Debris carried by the high water prevents fishing and limited mobility is cutting off hunters from their quarry.

Things are getting bad enough, Gwichya Gwich’in Council interim president Mavis Clark sent a letter to Infrastructure Minister Diane Archie June 15 noting the community may need to declare a state of emergency if the situation doesn’t improve.

“We just had a couple days open that the ferry was able to land on the Tsiigehtchic landing,” she said. “The nurse that was here for a breakup was out on that. As soon as she was out, the water started rising and then we’re back in isolation. So we don’t even have a nurse here in the community.”

Noting the lack of mail meant no one in the community was getting paid either, Clark expressed her hopes Housing NWT would be flexible in handling rent over the summer.

Adding to the frustration is a second boat launch, which Clark suggested could be accessed in the interim. However, she says she’s been told it cannot be used due to heritage reasons.

“It’s a heritage river and they’re not allowed to use the boat launch,” she said. “We have been using in the past and I don’t see why this should be such a big deal when it’s almost an emergency where we need food and we need our mail.”

Cardinal-Clark said she’s been told the water levels upriver are receding, so she’s hopeful the Mackenzie around Tsiigehtchic will follow suit in a few days. But it’s still a long few days when the community is waiting for food.

Gwichya Gwich’in Council negotiator Lawrence Norbert said the predicament is highly stressful, particularly as the community had just spent six weeks in isolation during spring break-up.

“That’s normal but you get anxious to get out of town and go elsewhere — Fort McPherson, Inuvik — to get that human contact with family and friends,” he said. “The three days of operation between June 11-13 was uplifting as some folks got a brief chance to ‘go to town’ for fresh groceries, do some banking and get some restaurant to take-out food.

“But then to have that taken away and for who knows long due to high water just adds another stressor.”

UPDATE: Gravel has been loaded into the bay and the Tsiigehtchic Ferry Land opened, with delays, on June 21.


A truck pours gravel into the Tsiigehtchic ferry landing. Service resumed June 21.

Eric Bowling

Your source for all things happening in the Beaufort Delta. Eric jumped at the chance to write for the Inuvik Drum after cutting his teeth in Alberta. He enjoys long walks, loud music and strong coffee....

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