The Nàkwät’à Kų̀ Potlatch House is being used as a gathering place for evacuees staying open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. (Kwanlin Dün First Nation/Facebook)

The Nàkwät’à Kų̀ Potlatch House is being used as a gathering place for evacuees staying open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. (Kwanlin Dün First Nation/Facebook)

Yukoners pitch in to help evacuees

Potlatch house opened as a gathering place. Donations of food, toys and hygiene products accepted

As numerous evacuees get away from the wildfires in the northern and central Yukon and arrive in the territory’s capital, governments, organizations and individuals are stepping up to help them.

Emergency coordination centre information officer Diana Dryburgh said Whitehorse’s Canada Games Centre is set up with sleeping facilities but as of Aug. 10, it was not in use as all the evacuees were staying at Normandy Living or at a Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) building, with friends and family or at hotels.

KDFN communications manager Dylan MacNeil said sleeping space has been set up at the First Nation’s multipurpose building.

Along with accommodations KDFN is keeping its Nàkwät’à Kų̀ potlatch house open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily offering food, refreshments, counselling and other services there. A sacred fire will be kept burning at the potlatch house.

The potlatch house, located at 27 McIntyre Drive, is also the collection point for donations to assist the evacuees. MacNeil said KDFN is looking for hygiene supplies such as: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand soap, shaving equipment and toothbrushes. Items for babies including diapers, wipes and baby soap and shampoo are also being sought.

At an Aug. 10 briefing on the fire situation, KDFN chief Sean Smith noted there had been generous donations of moose and caribou meat as well as other food to feed evacuees. At the briefing, Yukon Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said donations of toys, games and other ways for evacuees to pass the time would also be welcome.

“Every effort and gesture helps. From emergency responders and volunteers, to community members and organizations, it has been incredible to witness the Yukon spirit in action as we come together to face these challenges,” McPhee said.

McPhee highlighted the mental wellness supports being put in place and the importance of evacuees registering with Emergency Social Services.

A shuttle bus travelling between the Canada Games Centre, the potlatch house and hotels in Whitehorse will run 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. for the duration of the evacuation.

Yukon emergency social services representative Dale Cheeseman noted that Service Canada would be in touch with evacuees at the Canada Games Centre and at the potlatch house to handle requests related to social insurance numbers, employment insurance and public pensions.

Northwestel announced it would be crediting affected residential customers the full value of their service for the duration of the evacuation order. Telecommunications are operational in the affected communities.

While some groups look after people’s basic necessities, others are trying to offer a fun distraction for those who had to leave their homes. Among these efforts was free bowling offered for evacuated Na-Cho Nyak Dun citizens sponsored by Pelly Construction Ltd. and Northern Lights Bowling. Yukon Water Bikes will offer free use of its rental water bikes and other water equipment for evacuated residents at Chadburn Lake on Aug. 11. Pick ups will run at the Potlatch House at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. with pickups at the Yukon Inn entrance 15 minutes after each of these and rides back to town at 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sandwiches and bottled water are also being provided. A variety of local sponsors came together to make the fun day at the lake possible.

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