Confederacy suspends longhouse ceremonies, tells Six Nations residents to stay at home due to COVID-19

·3 min read

In a move that could help get COVID-19 under control on Six Nations of the Grand River, leaders of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council have told band members to stay home, and have given permission for traditional longhouse gatherings — which were blamed for past outbreaks — to cease.

“Our people’s safety is of the utmost importance,” Confederacy clan mothers and chiefs said in a statement released Wednesday.

“During the mid-winter ceremonies at Six Nations, we have seen numerous cases reported even with many precautions in place. We are encouraging anyone that attended the most recent mid-winter ceremonies or been in contact with someone who has to reach out to the COVID-19 assessment centre for guidance.”

Elected council and Six Nations Health Services named the January mid-winter ceremonies as a source of COVID-19 transmission, and subsequently urged band members to avoid “large gatherings.”

In their statement, Confederacy leaders thanked community members who carried out the ceremonies for “maintaining the wellness and sovereignty of our community through our traditional practices.”

“We recognize that the level of stress on these individuals has been tremendous. We also need to think of their well-being moving forward, and we are now temporarily removing that responsibility until we have fully passed through this pandemic,” the statement read.

Confederacy leaders said individual longhouses can decide how to proceed with ceremonies held without a crowd.

The Confederacy has shifted its own meetings online.

“Even small gatherings can lead to high community transmission. We have witnessed first-hand how powerful and contagious the virus really is,” the statement read.

“We are encouraging everyone to stay within your own household except for essential purposes. We cannot stress enough how important it is to curb the spread of this virus.”

The hereditary clan mothers and chiefs also urged residents not to “blame or shame” neighbours who contract COVID-19, but instead “to support each other with kindness.”

After a recent spike saw Six Nations set new active case records on a daily basis, recoveries outpaced new cases 97 to 24 over the past week.

As of Thursday, there were 39 active cases on the reserve, with four COVID-19 patients in hospital and 278 band members in self-isolation.

“The number of active cases in the community continues to decline, and our front-line workers thank everyone for their efforts collectively to slow the spread of this virus,” said Candace Lee Lickers, spokesperson for Six Nations Elected Council.

“However, our front-line workers are burnt out, and we need the entire community’s support to make it through what we hope to be the last stretch of this COVID-19 pandemic.”

Six Nations has opened its first vaccination clinic and is booking appointments online or by phone for band members 50 years of age and older, along with people who are immunocompromised and receiving home care.

On Thursday, public health reminded band members who choose to get vaccinated off-reserve that they must get their second dose through the same health unit in order to maintain “consistency” in reporting, dosage timing, and which vaccine they receive.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator