Jacqueline Shorty, front centre, sits with the group of volunteers at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre on Sept. 10. This group is responsible for the Tahltan Strong Benefit Concert’s which will take place at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre Sept. 19 and at the Coast High Country Inn on Sept. 20. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Fundraising for fire evacuees

Two nights of performances announced

Jacqueline Shorty was a bit apprehensive when she had the idea. She had never put on a benefit concert before. She wasn’t sure she’d know how. But it was the first thing that came to her mind when she started hearing about the fires in British Columbia this summer.

Shorty remembers she was sitting at home, where she works as an artist, sewing, smudging, and looking at Facebook when she realized how serious things were getting near Telegraph Creek. People were being evacuated at the time.

“When I was watching this roll out on Facebook and seeing the comments, I was feeling helpless because I have family and friends there and my kids are from there,” she told the News. “I was wondering ‘what can I do?’ There was really nothing that anyone could do.”

But when the idea of a concert came to her on a Tuesday morning, she was surprised to find she’d rallied 25 volunteers by Wednesday. By Thursday, performers and artists were getting in touch to offer their support.

Kevin Barr said he’d play. So did Yukon Jack. The Dakhká Khwáan Dancers were eager to perform, and the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre donated a night of hosting to the effort.

Andy Nieman, a Carmacks musician, said he knew immediately he wanted to be a part of it.

A member of the White River First Nation, he was invited, in 2013, to Telegraph Creek to participate in a welcoming home ceremony for residential school survivors. For five days, he acted as a keynote speaker and support worker. He has been back multiple times since then to do workshops and help people in the community heal.

When he heard what was happening there in August, he said it sat heavy on his heart.

“I posted a number of writings on Facebook to help let the people know that we’re with them in spirit and prayers and love and that we’re there to help them in any way we can.”

He said the response, particularly from First Nations people, has been amazing to witness.

“It’s very uplifting and very healing,” he said. “Also, to me, it speaks to how powerful we as First Nations people are and how we’re healing. Because this is all (happening) with First Nations organizers, web designers, the T-shirt designs. I really am very proud of that.”

There was so much interest and support, he said, it was his suggestion that the fundraiser, called the Tahltan Strong Benefit Concert for Telegraph Creek, be spread over two nights instead of one.

“We had such a response that we decided it was best to do it over two nights,” agreed Shorty. “There was no way to carry it off in one night.”

The KDCC will host the first night on Sept. 19, featuring 22 performers including Kevin Barr, Tahltan Havoc, Jerry Alfred, Dennis Shorty, Andy Nieman, the Dakwakada Dancers Official and Dakhká Khwáan Dancers.

On Sept. 20, country musician Brent Kissel will play the convention centre at the Coast High Country Inn, where he’ll be joined by performers from the previous night.

Kissel is taking time off a northern Canadian tour to appear at the concert in Whitehorse. That connection came about when Northern Vision Development got in touch with Shorty about helping by donating the convention centre for the night.

Tickets for both events are by donation, with a minimum of $20. In addition to performances, there will be a silent auction featuring work from artists Blake Lepine, Mark Rutledge and more.

Shorty said people can also bring donations to the concerts. Right now, she said people need winter clothing including coats and snowpants, scarves, mitts, boots and more, as well as non-perishable food items, soap and toiletries. Many have lost everything in their homes.

All proceeds will go back to Telegraph Creek evacuees and to assist the firefighters if they need anything.

At the moment, there are 25 wildfires burning across B.C. which are considered dangerous. The fire in Telegraph Creek, located near Iskut, on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, has been ongoing since early August. Twenty-seven homes have been destroyed, as have a number of other buildings and structures in the community.

Shorty said she encourages people to continue with the outpouring of generosity she’s seen so far.

“The Yukon people, they care and they wanted to help out with our neighbours down in northern B.C. and truly every one of them all reflected and said ‘this could be us.’”

More information can be found on the Facebook page for Tahltan Strong Benefit Concert for Telegraph Creek.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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