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After losing their home in N.W.T. wildfires, this family is grateful to be together for Thanksgiving

For years, the Neadzo family has always hosted extended family at their home in Behchoko, N.W.T. But since that home burned down in the wildfire that hit the community this past July, they will celebrate at a different home this year for the first time.

'[I’m] just going to be happy that we’re going to have everyone together,' Walter Neadzo says

Six people stand in front of table with a lot of food including a turkey on it.

For Walter and Beatrice Neadzo, Thanksgiving dinner felt different this year.

For years, the Neadzo family has hosted extended family at their home in Behchokǫ̀, N.W.T. But since that home burned down in the wildfire that hit Behchokǫ̀ this 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 at another family member's home for the first time.

"This year [is] a lot different for me. But you know, I try to accept how we are now, where we are living," said Beatrice Neadzo. "As long as we have the roof over our heads, it's the only thing that matters. And we're all together."

They're not the only people in the territory facing this situation. Wildfires in the N.W.T. destroyed homes in four different communities this summer, and many people are still without new permanent living situations. In Behchokǫ̀, the Neadzo's home was one of four properties lost to wildfire.

Walter and Beatrice built their home 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 the winter, they were famous in the community for having the best Christmas lights in town. Walter, with the help of his four daughters, would start working on the lights in October. By December, Beatrice said it looked like a "candy cane house".

For their extended families, their home was a "hub" where they would get together and celebrate. Most every Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving was spent at their house, with relatives coming to help with cooking and cleaning.

"There [were] a lot of good memories in that house," Walter said.

The transition out of their old family home and into the trailer has been especially hard for their kids, none of whom had ever lived anywhere else.

When the evacuation happened, each family member only got to bring one bag of possessions.

They lost an old accordion that belonged to Walter's grandfather, who died in the early 1970s. Beatrice lost her homemade wedding dress, which she had hoped to pass on to her daughters.

''It feels like our past existence was just erased, because everything just completely burnt," Walter said.

Community support eases things

One bright spot has been the support the family has received from their community in Behchokǫ̀. Community members have been fundraising for the family since they first lost their home.

In addition to supplying them with a trailer, the Tlicho government put in purchasing orders at stores in the community, so they could replace some of the essentials 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 house, and trying to make the best of life together in the trailer. Walter is hoping they might get their settlement from their insurance company sometime in December.

When they do start work on a new home, they are debating between buying a mobile home, so they can move back in more quickly, or whether to start from scratch again.

"We don't want to dwell on the past. We have to keep on looking forward. That's what I tell my kids," Walter said.

"[I'm] just going to be happy that we're going to have everyone together. That's what's most important."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Krymalowski is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. She previously reported from Iqaluit. You can reach her at sarah.krymalowski@cbc.ca.

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