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Letter to NWT Premier and Cabinet Re: NWT Evacuation and Return

Aug 22, 2023

The following letter was sent to the NWT Premier and Cabinet regarding financial support for NWT Evacuees and the plan for returning to affected communities.

August 22, 2023

Honourable Premier Caroline Cochrane
and all Cabinet Ministers
NWT Legislative Assembly

Dear Premier Cochrane and NWT Cabinet Ministers,

Re: NWT Evacuation and Return

With great disappointment last night I followed the August 21, 2023 press conference to learn that NWT residents who evacuated the territory by vehicle will not be supported by the GNWT on their return when the evacuation order is lifted.

Residents of Yellowknife, Dettah, Ingraham Trail, N’dilo, as well as evacuees from South Slave
communities who were in Yellowknife, were given last minute direction through the evacuation order. There was no advance notice or alert, and no advance information or instruction on how an evacuation would proceed, no ability to prepare. Residents were directed to drive out of the territory to save flights for others.

“Only residents who do not have the option to leave the area by road are asked to register for
evacuation flights.” (GNWT Facebook and Public Safety website)

“It is safe for residents who have a vehicle and are able to drive to evacuate by road. Carpooling is encouraged to reduce traffic and assist those who do not have access to a vehicle. Evacuation flights should be used as a last resort for those who do not have the option to evacuate by road.” (GNWT Public Safety website)

We are now told “If you self-evacuated on your own means, the expectation will be that you reenter on your own means.”

Such a blanket statement especially following this direction, is completely unacceptable and terrifying for some evacuated residents. I am calling upon the Government of the NWT to reconsider this harsh and punitive position.

There are many situations in which residents will need assistance - practically and financially - to return to their home communities, even if they were able to scramble to obtain a ride out by road.

  • Residents car pooled and upon reaching destinations separated to stay with friends or relatives, go to evacuation centres to get accommodation assistance, etc. Many may not be able to reunite to car pool on the return, and will require a flight home.
  • There were many vehicle breakdowns - no one had an opportunity to get their vehicles checked out and serviced before evacuating. There were numerous accidents along the way. These residents may not be able to afford to get their vehicles fixed (or sometimes replaced), and will require a flight home, or financial assistance to drive home.
  • Residents have exhausted their own funds (including so many who will have gone without income or reduced income) and require financial assistance to drive home.
    Families were split up in evacuation for many different reasons such as duty travel, essential workers remaining in NWT communities, taking kids to school in another community, etc., and will require financial assistance to reunited and/or travel home.
  • Residents purchased a commercial flight for themselves and family members to evacuate, but are not able to afford to do the same to return.
  • Not all residents have insurance to assist with expenses.
  • Residents from the South Slave have been evacuated from their homes for much longer than other residents and will have depleted their funds more.

These are just some examples.

There are many UNW members who are in these or similar situations. Union members are historically better paid and have better benefits than non-unionized workers - so if my members are desperately struggling financially and need the support of their government, I can only imagine the critical predicament of other residents.

Once again, I call upon the GNWT to provide residents financial and practical assistance to return to their home communities in a safe and dignified manner, when the time comes.

I am also calling upon the GNWT to provide practical information in advance of a call for return, so that residents can budget and plan accordingly. Is there going to be an actual phased approach (unlike the free-for-all evacuation)? Will hotel stays be cut off and if so when? How can residents obtain financial assistance if they do not have the funds to return? This will save everyone - residents, volunteers, workers, and government - money and stress in the long run.
I call upon the Mayors and Councils and First Nation leaders of the evacuated communities to discuss and persuade the GNWT to support their residents in this way.


Gayla Thunstrom
UNW President

Cc: all NWT Legislative Assembly MLAs