Dene National Assembly still on in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., next month, despite wildfire evacuation

Smoke surrounded Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., at around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday. The community is under an evacuation order. (Submitted by N.W.T. Fire - image credit)

The Dene National Assembly is still scheduled to go forward next month in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., despite the looming wildfire and the evacuation order that's now in place for the community.

"As of this moment there is no change," wrote Leanne Goose, spokesperson for Dene Nation, in an email on Wednesday.

"If or when there is a change, a press release would be issued."

As of Wednesday, a wildfire was within a kilometre of the community. However, Fort Good Hope evacuees did get some good news as officials said the fire had moved toward an old burn area from 2017 and away from the community.

The annual Dene National Assembly, scheduled for July 23 to 25, will include the election of the Dene National Chief, who doubles as N.W.T. regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations. A record number of candidates are running in the election, which will be conducted both in-person and virtually.

George Grandjambe, who's an evacuee from Fort Good Hope, says he's happy next month's assembly hasn't been postponed.

"It would relax people more and then keep their minds away from what's happening right now. So I think it's a really good thing that these things that are planned and they're still going to go ahead."

The Dene National Assembly isn't the only event scheduled for Fort Good Hope this summer.

Grandjambe said he's particularly excited for an assembly being hosted in the community by the Sahtu Secretariat Inc. (SSI) in early August.

"I think the regional assembly is kind of important to us," he said.

"Mainly because they deal specifically with the Sahtu regional stuff, regional political issues and concerns from people at the regional level."

Charles McNeely, chairperson of SSI, said he hasn't heard of any plans to change the dates.

"I haven't heard anything from anyone, so I guess everybody is just playing by ear right now, waiting to see what happens with this fire," he said.

McNeely is hopeful the event will still go forward considering it's more than a month away.

There is also a handgames tournament in Fort Good Hope scheduled for July 19 to 21.

Delphine (Dolly) Pierrot, who is an organizer of the tournament, said the plans for it are still unclear as many of the volunteers are currently helping with the evacuation.

"I can't really make a decision like that without all of us talking, but it does definitely throw a curve ball at us," she said.

The Sahtu events wouldn't be the only ones affected by wildfires in the N.W.T. this year.

Concerns about wildfires led the Dehcho First Nations to postpone its annual assembly which was initially planned for Nahanni Butte in mid-June. It will now take place in Fort Simpson during the week of August 12.