"When you look around the community, there's still smoke smoldering. It's blackened all around us … so it's very sad to see."
This is how Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief Jackson Lafferty describes the forests surrounding Behchokǫ̀, N.W.T.
Despite still being in a state of recovery, the community is nonetheless welcoming evacuees from Yellowknife, Dettah, Ndilǫ, and other regions as wildfires have forced two-thirds of the territory's residents to evacuate their homes.
In late July, Behchokǫ̀ was in the same situation — residents had to leave as a wildfire encroached on the community's limits, ultimately damaging four homes. That fire is the same that forced Yellowknife and its surrounding communities to evacuate.
Lawrence Mantla is an evacuee from Yellowknife, and has described the situation as "the experience of a lifetime." He said that he had never seen something like this before, and the magnitude of the fires was unexpected given how far North he is.
One thing that helped Mantla in the midst of it all was the resilience, collaboration and generosity of his fellow northerners. He said that people in Behchokǫ̀ were doing everything they could to help out evacuees, helping people set up their tents and RVs, and giving out food.
"We're all in this together, we're all the North, and we'll stay strong together ... People are giving out fish and food, as much as they could."
In addition to their own order, the Northern Store in Behchokǫ̀ has received shipments of goods destined for evacuated communities. (Travis Burke/CBC)
Mantla isn't the only evacuee that is appreciative of the northern hospitality Behchokǫ̀ has shown evacuees.
Shane Keller, also from Yellowknife, said that he couldn't have had a better community to evacuate to than Behchokǫ̀.
"I'm very grateful for the people out here and everything they've done for us. It's been a long week, but I'll tell you it's been made a lot better by the generosity and the kindness of people here," Keller says.
Yellowknife closure poses challenge for surrounding communities
Lafferty said the evacuation and closure of Yellowknife has been particularly challenging for Tłı̨chǫ communities as they rely on the capital for food, medical services and transport.
With the capital shut down, and the highway to Behchokǫ̀ frequently closing and opening due to fires further south, Lafferty has concerns about how Behchokǫ̀ will sustain its people, along with all of the evacuees.
"We still need groceries, we still need medical attention, chartered flights and so forth," Lafferty said.
The Northern Store in Behchokǫ̀ is well-stocked for the time being, however there are concerns that if the evacuation orders persist, the situation may become more dire.
"In the meantime while we're waiting for a call [lifting the evacuation order], we will continue to do what it takes to care for our Tłı̨chǫ people, in our Tłı̨chǫ way of life." Lafferty said, "I know it's been a trying time and a very stressful time for our Tłı̨chǫ citizens and also N.W.T. evacuees, and we feel for them."