Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Evacuated back to her hometown in Ontario from the Northwest Territories, CKLB Radio editor Mariah Caruso lay in bed wondering what their small but mighty team of two from the N.W.T. could do for community members fleeing wildfires?
“What can we do? What can we do well? And what can we do timely?” Caruso contemplated. Other outlets were doing the news, but “if there’s something CKLB has always done, and leaned into, is communities.”
CKLB airs programming to 33 communities in five dialects–Denesuline, Gwich’in, Tlicho, Dehcho and Sahtu Dene.
The next day she began reaching out to community members from CKLB’s vast audience, which stretches from Northern Alberta to the Arctic Ocean. With five communities evacuated, and another 28 remaining, “I thought, we gotta find a way to connect those that have been displaced to members back home.”
By the end of the day, Caruso was working on a new program titled "Evacuation Station", just with an iPad and phone, with plans to borrow her sister’s computer to use for better sound editing software for radio.
Through social media, the station reached out to evacuees and quickly had a dozen stories of silver lining experiences. The good things that were happening that came as a result of the evacuations.
“It’s a really great way to give some hope, some light, some laughter, a different tone back to what Denendeh needs right now,” Caruso said.
She paired the silver linings with news and Country music. The CKLB audience is “huge on their Country music,” Caruso said. “They love that.”
Along with the songs and shout outs, CKLB would air stories that amplified the strength and resilience of northerners.
Though she had few resources, she had a big commitment to the listeners. And she has received a “really positive response.” She’s planning to air the program until evacuees return home.
“The silver linings are everything. I've had people tell me already they've reconnected with family they hadn’t seen in over 20 years.”
One such story put on air is from friend Yake Eden Maury about not being able to visit her brother. That was “until the fires had brought them together. Serendipitous moments,” says Caruso.
“My family is from Dettah and N’Dilo,” said Maury. “I was reunited with my brother that I haven’t seen for 20 years. Because of the fires, because of the evacuation, I ended up in Edmonton and I was reunited with my brother.”
Maury sent a shout out to “all the residents of N.W.T and requested ‘We’ll meet again.’
If evacuees would like to send a hello to a loved one, request a favourite song for a neighbour, or share good experiences, they can connect by emailing Mariah.email@example.com, Ian.Down@cklbradio.com or by calling 867 766 2552 ext 108.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.