This past week we’ve all heard the heartbreaking news of the fire on the Hay River Reserve. Many of us have seen the terrible pictures and videos of the fire.
To make matters worse, just last year the K’atl’odeeche First Nation (KFN) had the worst flood that people can remember. Some people had stayed at the Wellness Center for many months while waiting for their homes to be repaired.
People were still reeling from that tragedy, and now they have to deal with a fire that not only forced them out of their homes, it has burned down the Dene Cultural Institute (DCI), the school, the Band Office, the seniors complex and many homes.
Losing the DCI building is hard to take, but at least all of the material was removed before the building burned. The KFN website shows many boxes of materials that were removed.
Should KFN lose the Wellness Center, it may end up being the biggest loss on the reserve. The GNWT still owns the building, and the GNWT does not insure its buildings.
This means the Wellness Center might not be rebuilt if it is destroyed. Not cool.
Say what? You’re thinking why wouldn’t our government insure its buildings? It’s because the GNWT has so much infrastructure across the territory that it’s cheaper to rebuild things that are lost to fire than it is to get insurance on everything.
Wow, it’s going to take the K’atl’odeeche First Nation a long time to recover from this. They’ll need a lot of assistance from the territorial and federal governments. I’m sure they’ll want to assist KFN as much as possible and will avoid getting into jurisdictional arguments. Eschia, take it easy eh!
It’s hard to imagine being uprooted from your home, going to Yellowknife, and sleeping on a cot in the Multiplex with hundreds of other people. There’s no privacy and little information on what’s happening back home.
Some people were wondering if their home and/or pets survived. In fact, the KFN website said dogs were picked up on the road by workers and some were seen swimming across the river to Hay River. It didn’t say if all of them made it, although some did.
As of Wednesday, around 120 people were fighting the fire, including using helicopters and air tankers to drop water on the out-of-control fire. It must have been very disheartening to hear that wind conditions had made it so dangerous that all the people working to save their community were pulled back at various times.
The fire was incredible!
Rather than going to Yellowknife and staying at the Multiplex, former KFN Chief Roy Fabian went to Meander River. He said he wanted to stay with family so he could have more privacy and cooked meals, instead of sleeping on a cot with hundreds of other people and eating out all the time.
Roy said it will take a long time to rebuild everything that was lost, and they still don’t know the true extent of the loss. He said, “the fire was incredible. It seems to pick and choose which units to burn down”.
In one location, several units burned in a row, then it jumped a few and burned another one. Then it did it again. One man’s garage burned down but his house survived – and it was only 50 feet away.
“We were watching the fire from the Hay River side and the flames were shooting up to 150 feet in the air,” Roy said. “It’s hard to imagine anything still standing. At one point I even heard my house burned down, but now I know it’s okay.”
And that’s one of the most difficult things. People still don’t know if the wind will change and send the fire back to their community and possibly burn the rest of it down. And with all of the rumours out there, it’s difficult to know what to believe and what not to believe.
What they do know is the KFN leadership will have a difficult time for the next several years. Of course, the difficulty begins with rebuilding and replacing things, including people’s homes and belongings.
And it will also include dealing with the mental problems resulting from their people surviving a terrible tragedy two years in a row.
I have worked with the KFN leadership and I know they are up for the task of building a healthier and stronger community. KFN STRONG!