With COVID-19 now present in seven Northwest Territories communities, the Tłı̨chǫ government has moved its annual gathering online.
The 17th annual Tłı̨chǫ Gathering, which started in Behchokǫ̀ on Monday and runs through Thursday, is now a virtual event, the government said in a news release on Tuesday. Events this weekend celebrating 100 years of Treaty 11, such as drum dances and hand game tournaments, have been postponed until it's safe to gather again.
"It was with great sadness, but absolute need, that we must take action today. We must keep our people safe, and protect our elders and youth," reads the release.
It goes on to say that "the new variant spreads very quickly. And unfortunately, our vaccination rates in our Tłı̨chǫ communities are too low to risk community spread in our communities."
The government says sending people home is the safest thing to do, and that people should monitor for symptoms and get tested if they feel sick.
There were 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory, and six probable cases, as of Monday night. Of those cases, 31 are related to an outbreak in the Sahtu region.
Though the strain hasn't yet been confirmed, Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green said officials suspect it's the "aggressive" delta variant.
According to the territorial government's online COVID-19 dashboard, vaccination rates are lower in most Tłı̨chǫ communities than in the territory as a whole.
While 73 per cent of N.W.T. residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated, in Behchokǫ̀, only 55 per cent of that group is fully vaccinated. That figure is slightly higher in Whatì, where 61 per cent are fully vaccinated. In Wekweètì, it's 66 per cent and in Gamètì it's 74 per cent.
In its news release, the Tłı̨chǫ Government urges residents to get their shots.
Yellowknives Dene First Nation also postponed their hand games tournament until September 3 to 6.
Nomination for grand chief going ahead
Though the annual gathering will now be online, the nomination process for grand chief is going ahead, and will take place on Aug. 20.
Each Tłı̨chǫ community will have a location ready to accept nominators and potential candidates "in a safe way," reads the release.
It says the previous Tłı̨chǫ Assembly expected that a COVID-19 outbreak might require adjustments to the nomination process, and there's a special regulation in place to account for that.
The regulation allows Grand Chief Election Registrar Gabrielle Mackenzie-Scott to set out rules in keeping with advice from the chief public health officer "to keep Tłı̨chǫ citizens safe and keep our elections fair and open to everyone."