Norman Betsina, a YKDFN member and an essential worker, remains in Yellowknife and Dettah, observes the Behchoko fire threatening Yellowknife from a courtesy of Norman Betsina

Norman Betsina, a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and an essential worker, keeps watch over Yellowknife, Dettah and Ndilo. Here he gets airborne in a helicopter to observe the Behchoko fire threatening Yellowknife. Photo courtesy of Norman Betsina

Norman Betsina, a Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) member and resident of Ndilo, is one of the few people who decided to stay in Yellowknife after the mandatory evacuation order was issued due to wildfires.

He and his brother Ernest Betsina are volunteer essential workers who have been taking care of the community and working with city officials, the RCMP, the military and firefighters. Ernest was elected chief of Dettah earlier this month after previously serving as chief in Ndilo.

Fire breaks are being built along Jackfish Road toward the Dettah intersection. Norman said he has been doing security checks, firewatch and feeding and watering animals that were left behind by their owners. He also attends daily meetings in Dettah to get more information and updates on the wildfire crisis.

He said Yellowknife is very quiet and smoky. But the wind, when it blows from the north, is pushing all the smoke out. He said most of the local stores and services are closed or operating at a minimal level. The only stores that are open are the Yellowknife Direct Co-op and Independent grocery store, but they have limited supplies.

“There is no bread available, except for some types of bread that people don’t usually eat,” he said.

Betsina is staying at his home downtown but he comes to Dettah every day to meet with his brother and plan their activities. He said he’s registered as an essential worker and he communicates with city officials through WhatsApp. He receives notifications if there are any changes in the weather or if his help is needed. He said the military and the RCMP have been patrolling every half hour and keeping an eye on any suspicious people.

Betsina said he hopes everything will calm down soon and the weather will cool off. He has boats in the water ready to evacuate Dettah and Ndilo, if necessary, and the Coast Guard will assist them if they have to evacuate.

“I love living in Yellowknife because it’s my home and I grew up there,” Betsina said.

He said he didn’t want to leave because he wants to take care of his land. He’s living alone because his family has been evacuated down south. During his down time, he spends time with other family members and friends who are also staying behind to help.

Betsina said most of his family members are in Edmonton, but they are having a hard time finding rooms because they are being displaced.

He wants his family to stay close together and hopes that YKDFN will keep all their members together. He said he hopes that the government will help them out because they are strong people who have always come together in difficult times.

“We’re strong people,” Betsina said. “Like thousands of years ago, we always, you know, the YKDFN, all of us got to pull together. It’s like putting ten arrows together. You put one arrow together, it breaks. If you put 10 arrows together, you can’t break it.”

Kaicheng Xin

Kaicheng Xin is a Multimedia Journalist with NNSL Media. You can reach him at

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