Pauktuutit president recalls ‘eerie’ feeling fleeing Yellowknife

Gerri Sharpe among Nunavut Inuit who had to leave city; Canadian North rearranges flights through Kitikmeot

Wildfire smoke could be seen as Gerri Sharpe and her family evacuated Yellowknife due to the surrounding wildfires last week. (Photo courtesy of Gerri Sharpe)

By David Lochead

Gerri Sharpe says it felt “eerie” driving through heavy black smoke from wildfires near Enterprise, N.W.T., as she and family evacuated Yellowknife and headed for safety in Alberta last week.

Pauktuutit president Gerri Sharpe, seen in a file photo, is one of many Nunavut Inuit who evacuated the Yellowknife area last week as wildfires got close to the N.W.T. capital. (File photo by Madalyn Howitt)

“The smoke was so thick from the fires,” she said.

“You couldn’t see the sun. It was black.”

Sharpe, a resident of Yellowknife, evacuated the N.W.T.’s capital by car and is now in Leduc, Alta., just outside of Edmonton.

Sharpe is president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, a non-profit agency that represents Inuit women in Canada. Originally from Gjoa Haven, she is one of many Nunavut Inuit who fled Yellowknife as wildfires crept closer to the city of about 20,000 people.

Nunavummiut who reside in Yellowknife are now dispersed among evacuation stations in Alberta, which include Edmonton, Calgary, Fox Creek, Valleyview and Red Deer.

There were 237 active wildfires burning in the Northwest Territories on Wednesday, according to the government website.

Leaving on the afternoon of Aug. 16, Sharpe got out before the official evacuation order was issued later that night.

Sharpe and her aunt worked together to get out, with each of them driving multiple family members in separate cars.

They made the nearly 1,500-kilometre trip, arriving at a Leduc hotel on Aug. 17 one or two hours before the “massive amounts of people arrived.”

Since then, life has been scrambled for Sharpe and the other evacuees.

She said that initially the government — either Alberta or the Northwest Territories, she isn’t sure — committed to paying for all meals, but now is covering the cost of two meals per day for evacuees.

Now, she said, she is helping fellow Nunavut Inuit who have been evacuated fill out their forms to receive funding from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which is offering $1,000 per Nunavut Inuit household affected by the wildfires.

Sharpe said the Expo Centre in Edmonton has been “fabulous” in providing assistance for people who fled the wildfires. She said she and her family are doing alright.

“We are going to get food, we are going to get a place to sleep, and we are safe,” she said.

However, she has heard that other evacuation centres, such as one in Valleyview, Alta., have not been running with the same quality.

With uncertainty about whether the wildfires might still reach Yellowknife, Sharpe said she heard some people say they are willing to go home.

On Wednesday, the fires were reported to be about 15 kilometres from Yellowknife.

“People are very antsy,” she said.

Sharpe said she is seeing the effect the wildfires are having on animals, insects and water in the region.

“I hate to think about what next summer is going to be like,” she said.

Meanwhile, in an effort to help, some Dene leaders are organizing a free show for evacuees at the River Cree Resort in Edmonton. Sharpe knows a few Inuit throat singers who are in town and is trying to get them to perform.

On the impact Yellowknife’s wildfires will have on Inuit, she said it will “show tight and deep the lines that Inuit have with Yellowknife.”

On Wednesday, the Government of Nunavut announced it will donate $250,000 to the United Way Northwest Territories Emergency Response Fund.

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for that agency told the CBC “our coffers are empty” as it tries to support N.W.T. residents affected by the wildfires.

As the wildfires continue, medical travel and travel through the Kitikmeot region will all be affected, Sharpe said.

“Everything goes through Yellowknife,” she said.

Canadian North told Nunatsiaq News in an email that because of the wildfires cargo operations that normally run out of Yellowknife are instead operating in Edmonton.

To try to maintain scheduled service, temporary routes have been established in Iqaluit, Cambridge Bay and Inuvik.

Flight cancellations in and out of Yellowknife due to the wildfires have also impacted Nunavut students who use the territory’s financial assistance program, known as FANS.

Matthew Illaszewicz, director of stakeholder engagement with the Department of Education, said the GN has been working to get students’ flights rebooked, adding that travel through Kitikmeot is now open again.

Illaszewicz said students who have yet to fill their FANS Travel Request Form should do so as soon as possible.


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(8) Comments:

  1. Posted by 867 on

    Guessing nobody else had an “eerie” feeling leaving yellowknife. Just a standard routine evacuation order, no big deal.

  2. Posted by John WP Murphy on

    Gerri needs to clarify the $1000 benefit announced by NTI.
    It is ONLY available to Inuit beneficiaries who actually reside in the communities evacuated. NOT for all evacuated
    For example this inuit from Nunavut who were on medical travel in YK then evacuated to Edmonton are NOT qualified for the benefit

    • Posted by Conner Dear on

      Right! you already see the people that are so used to hand outs, going on TikTok asking for for money so they could shop cause its cheaper there to buy clothes for their children, this is medical travelers not evacuated people asking for money.

      • Posted by John WP Murphy on

        Nunavut medical travellers who were in Yk onWednesday 8 days ago

        • Posted by Sarah WP on

          So when I was done my medical, and was stuck between Edmonton and Yellowknife for 2 whole extra weeks, I could have ask for money cause I was stuck down that way,
          But we all know they don’t just give out money…right!

  3. Posted by John WP Murphy on

    Nunavut’s medical travellers who were in Yellowknife last Wednesday were suddenly evacuated to Edmonton that evening.
    Our original itinerary was to return to Kugluktuk on Thursday, but the evacuation order changed that.
    We along with other medical travellers are at the new Larga Edmonton near the airport. A beautiful well kept place to stay providing us three healthy meals a day. No complaints at all.
    The only inconvenience is we left Kugluktuk for 3 days only and packed accordingly..There is laundry facilities available to us.
    We fortunately can afford to meet any additional needs, but i can understand others who cannot .
    Nti should be reconsidering its eligibility for the financial benefits it recently announced to include the medical travellers who are beneficiaries and living in Nunavut and evacuated to southern Canada.

    • Posted by Conner Dear on

      Then wouldn’t the Nunavut Gov’t have to provide money to everyone who doesn’t have money or means to provide for themselves? Say….. like every 3 out of 5 travelers staying at Larga, right? majority are broke as well. My cousin was broke as hell when he went to Edmonton for his leg surgery……did he get any money for being done there just cause he was there, it don’t work that way Mr. John With-Pole Murphy.

    • Posted by 867 on

      Meanwhile NWT residents were asking to leave by vehicle were given nothing for accommodation , gas, food, etc but those that didn’t have their own vehicle took the planes and were treated like royalty getting everything for free

      Thankfully many stepped up and helped out of the goodness of their own hearts. Places giving free meals and free gas and NOT expecting handouts from the government,


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