For Walter and Beatrice Neadzo, Thanksgiving dinner this year was different.
For years, the Neadzo family has hosted relatives at their home in Behchokǫ̀, NWT. But since that house burned in the wildfire that hit Behchokǫ̀ in July, the family of six has been staying in a two-bedroom trailer in Edzo provided by the nearby Tlicho Nation.
So this year they celebrated the holiday for the first time at another family member’s house.
“This year [is] very different for me. But you know, I try to accept how we are now, where we live,” Beatrice Neadzo said. “As long as we have a roof over our heads, that’s the only thing that matters. And we are all together.”
They are not the only inhabitants of the territory who face this situation. Wildfires in the Northwest Territories destroyed homes in four different communities this summer, and many people remain without a new permanent housing situation. In Behchokǫ̀, the Neadzo house was one of four properties lost to a forest fire.
Walter and Beatrice built their house in Behchokǫ̀ themselves. It took them four years of hard work, but it was something they were always proud of. They lived there for 15 years with their four children before it burned down this summer.
In winter, they were famous in the community for having the best Christmas lights in town. Walter, with the help of his four daughters, would begin working on the lights in October. In December, Beatrice said it looked like a “candy cane house.”
For their extended families, their home was a “hub” where they gathered and celebrated. Most Christmases, Easters, and Thanksgivings were spent at home, and family members came to help with cooking and cleaning.
“There [were] “I have a lot of good memories in that house,” Walter said.
The transition from their old family home to the caravan has been especially difficult for their children, neither of whom had lived anywhere else.
When the evacuation occurred, each family member was only able to bring one bag with their belongings.
They lost an old accordion that belonged to Walter’s grandfather, who died in the early 1970s. Beatrice lost her handmade wedding dress, which she hoped to pass down to her daughters.
“It seems as if our past existence has been erased, because everything was completely burned,” Walter said.
Community support makes things easier
A positive point has been the support that the family has received from their community in Behchokǫ̀. Community members have been raising funds for the family since they first lost their home.
In addition to providing them with a trailer, the Tlicho government placed purchase orders at stores in the community, so they could replace some of the essential items they lost in the fire.
“It makes everything a little easier,” Neadzo said.
Right now, the family is still in the process of filing an insurance claim for their home and trying to make the most of life together in the trailer. Walter hopes his insurance company can get a settlement sometime in December.
When they start working on a new house, they debate whether to buy a mobile home, so they can get back to it more quickly, or start over from scratch.
“We don’t want to think about the past. We have to keep looking forward. That’s what I tell my kids,” Walter said.
“[I’m] I’ll be happy to have everyone together. That is the most important”.