'Everybody is doing their part': Tłı̨chǫ communities deal with COVID-19

·3 min read
Spruce boughs, as well as traditional foods, were distributed to elders and people who are isolating in Behchokǫ̀ and Whatı̀. (Avery Zingel/CBC - image credit)
Spruce boughs, as well as traditional foods, were distributed to elders and people who are isolating in Behchokǫ̀ and Whatı̀. (Avery Zingel/CBC - image credit)

In the Tłı̨chǫ region's largest COVID-19 outbreak to date, community members in Behchokǫ̀ and Whatı̀ are stepping up to support people in isolation by providing supplies, medicine and traditional food.

This past week, Jocelyn Zoe has been coordinating the distribution of traditional food to elders and people in isolation in Behchokǫ̀.

The community has been under a containment order since Sept. 9, when the N.W.T. office of the chief public health officer reported 11 COVID-19 cases in the community. The number of cases has steadily increased since then, reaching 100 on Oct. 1, the last day for which statistics are available.

Traditional foods

Zoe was the coordinator of events scheduled for August in Behchokǫ to mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 11, but they were postponed because of the COVID-19 outbreak in the territory.

"I had stored 80 fish and 50 ducks just for that [August] weekend," said Zoe, who decided to distribute them to elders and people in isolation.

"We really made sure we didn't come six feet within another person because the numbers are rising … we didn't want to put any of our workers at risk," she said.

Receiving traditional food during the outbreak "was like Christmas for them," said Zoe.

The original plan had been that elders would teach youth to pluck ducks and make dryfish, but that was cancelled.

The Tłıchǫ Government also delivered spruce boughs to community members.

Zoe said she arranged for couples in the same households to go out and gather the boughs. When they were distributed, she said, the deliverers masked up, rang the door bell and moved stepped back to maintain distance.

Zoe said her friend, Samantha Migwi, also had an idea to run an online contest for all ages.

The contest is still being planned but Zoe said it will have categories like best jigger and best beadwork, as well as storytelling and kid-specific events like cake decorating.

"A contest would lift the spirits up for our people during this outbreak," said Zoe.

Whatı̀ case counts dropping

Whatì Chief Alfonz Nitsiza said people in his community have been highly supportive by staying home and following the rules when cases arrived.

"The number has dropped dramatically in the last week," he said.

On Sept. 24, there were 18 active cases in the community — but that figure dropped to four on Sept. 27 and has gone unchanged since then, according to the last update from the N.W.T. office of the chief public health officer on Friday.

Nitsiza said the community has security driving around all night and is monitoring flight arrivals.

"We're doing everything we can to monitor people coming in and out," he said.

The Tłı̨chǫ government has staff phoning elders and people at home isolating, and has provided traditional food to people in isolation. Some community members are out at their camps hunting and fishing.

"Everybody is doing their part," said Nitsiza.

Have someone you want to recognize for their contributions to community during COVID-19? Email avery.zingel@cbc.ca

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