The majority of residents in Enterprise are more than 55 years old. As the community faces an uncertain future, the hamlet seniors’ society is trying to help.

Amy Mercredi, who heads the society, rents a house in Hay River for herself and two grandchildren. Mercredi is one of more than a dozen seniors displaced by a wildfire that burned through the Northwest Territories hamlet last summer, taking her home with it.

“I felt the heat, by the way, the morning of the fire. We were having a jamboree in Enterprise,” said Mercredi of the day she fled the hamlet with her grandchildren, who were aged seven and 12 at the time. 

Mercredi left for northern Alberta and arrived in High Level by nightfall. She and her grandchildren slept in her van while they waited for news about their community.

At 2:30 a.m., she recalled, the hamlet’s mayor knocked on her van window and said: “Grandma, your house is gone and everything with it.”

“And then my little guy stood,” she said, “and said: ‘And my Legos, too?’ I still had to smile at that.”

This approach to life is central to Mercredi’s vision for Enterprise’s seniors’ society, which hosted its first AGM since the fire on March 26.

“It was an awesome meeting,” Mercredi said. “It takes work to do things, so I have good volunteers.”

At the meeting, 13 members worked on a plan to restart activities like seniors’ lunches in at Enterprise’s community hall and group visits to seniors in Hay River, Kakisa and Kátł’odeeche First Nation. 

“We offered two lunches a month in Enterprise for anybody who wanted to come and we’re going to continue doing that, starting after Easter,” Mercredi said. “That’s the biggest thing right now.”

Around 40 Enterprise residents are members of the society, with a core group of consistent participants, Mercredi says.

Before the 2023 wildfire, Enterprise’s seniors’ society held daily coffee and card games at the community hall, arranged lunches every two weeks, gave away Christmas hampers and gifts to people in need, and staged beloved games of bunnock.

“We were an active group of seniors that were out there to help each other,” said Mercredi. 

“If I said, ‘Let’s get together to do this,’ they all came.”

Gathering for mental health

Social gatherings are a lifeline for seniors who face isolation, financial stress and uncertainty as a result of last year’s fire, said Mercredi, inviting anyone to participate. 

The GNWT now offers counselling services for those affected by wildfires. Mercredi, who is 80 years old, believes seniors don’t need counsellors, they need community.

“We like to talk to each other because we know each other and we like to share our little ups, our little sicknesses and health – things that you talk about as a friend, as a companion, as a go-to,” Mercredi said.

“Just being able to sit down to talk to the people is the most important thing, to meet regularly so that we can discuss issues and see what we want to do in the next year, share ideas.”

Some Enterprise seniors who lost everything are living in Hay River, a town under housing pressures of its own, while they wait for insurance claims or GNWT support.

One Enterprise resident, Chaal Cadieux, told Cabin Radio in January he had struggled to find low-income housing in Hay River.

“There are no options here for $500 bachelor suites for people on fixed incomes or seniors,” Cadieux said at the time.

“If you’re a senior, if you have diabetes, the last thing you need is stress. How many other medical conditions get heightened because of that stress, because of not knowing? 

“Those are the factors that I’ve seen. You might not think about it when you’re writing that policy, but holy shit, those are important things to consider.”

Cadieux has elderly relatives who lost their homes and businesses, and says he has seen first-hand the stress they were and are under. He wants consistent communication from government with displaced seniors to ensure their needs are met.

Mercredi says her finances have been a struggle through a wait of more than six months for her own insurance claim to advance.

“When you’re on a fixed income, like we as seniors are, we don’t have extra cash to get started again,” Mercredi said. 

“We as insured people got nothing, and not even a thank-you from the government.”

Still, Mercredi counts herself lucky. She has a big family and social network that has come through since she lost her home.

“I have my support systems around me that help me, but I feel for the seniors who lost everything,” she said.

‘I have so much faith’

Mercredi says the territorial approach to disaster relief has left her feeling overlooked. Homeowners who were uninsured are presently waiting to hear from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs regarding federally backed disaster aid. Insured homeowners are asked to go through their private insurance plan.

“The GNWT is dividing us into categories and it’s really hard to understand why,” said Mercredi. 

“I feel like I’m not part of the community now, because I was insured.

“They don’t even know who we are. It’s very important that you know we are people with faces, that we’re here. You need to know who we are before making decisions for us.”

In the weeks after the wildfire, Mercredi began writing down her thoughts and memories about her upbringing, her faith, the role of prayer in her life, and the importance of letting go. 

She has compiled them into a booklet to share with loved ones.

“Why did the Lord come and take my possessions away from me through a fire?” Mercredi wrote to herself. “I’m 80 years old. What am I supposed to do now?”

Through her writing, Mercredi has answered her questions.

“There’s more to life than being angry because somebody didn’t call the right shots,” she said. 

“I tell my two grandchildren that live with me: You might have lost your Legos over there, but now you have a whole bunch of new ones. 

“We didn’t lose our lives. We can still pray together and we can still pray for other people. To me, there’s more to life. It’s the people you meet and the choices you make in life that make your life.

“We have to learn to forgive and we have to move on. Life is glorious. I have so much faith in everything working out, and that’s what I tell people when they ask me what I think.”

By Simona Rosenfield, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 30, 2024 at 07:05