COMMUNITY REPORT: Fort Liard – Informing Elders and keeping them safe

“We’re trying to protect our Elders — our community,” says mayor Hillary Deneron

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Fort Liard’s mayor says the hamlet is focusing on keeping Elders safe and informed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re trying to protect our Elders — our community,” said Hillary Deneron.

Following days of anxiety-inducing uncertainty, Deneron said she received word from the territorial government that essential supply chain workers — truckers bringing in groceries and fuel — would still be allowed across the B.C. border.

The GNWT moved to shut down the border to non-essential visitors last week.

The hamlet of Fort Liard lies just North of the B.C.-NWT border in the west end of the territory. Highway 7 is also known as the “Liard Highway,” and was closed to all but essential travellers by order of the chief officer of public health in late March. Google Maps image

To get the word out, Deneron spent hours posting updates on community bulletin boards in Fort Liard — part of an effort to get crucial messages across to Elders and other community members who don’t have internet access.

“You don’t see very many GNWT posts coming in on paper. Everything is on social media or their website,” Deneron told NNSL Media.

A lot of Elders in the community of some 500 people don’t speak or understand English, said Deneron. That’s why leaders are focusing on communicating social distancing and health safety advice to Elders who aren’t seeing GNWT COVID-19 updates, the bulk of which are being posted online in English.

Deneron is a co-owner at the Liard Valley General Store, a crucial grocery outpost in the hamlet. She said she’s been driving home social distancing messages to residents who come into the store: keep your distance and stay at home when you can.

“Young or old, it doesn’t matter. We’re making it clear to everybody,” she said. “We’re telling community members not to take this lightly, that this is a serious matter.”

But in a small community where people often socialize in large groups, Deneron said the message isn’t getting across to everyone.

“We are huggers and hand-shakers. Some people aren’t taking it as seriously as it should be taken,” she said.

At her shop, Deneron said there has been some hoarding of supplies — something she’s actively discouraging — but she’s not worried about a shortage of goods at the moment.

The store, which receives grocery shipments from Edmonton, is currently well-stocked, said Deneron. But it is short on some items in the wake of COVID-19, particularly dried products like flour, pasta and rice.

Despite the well-stocked store, Deneron does have some concerns about how Fort Liard will confront COVID-19 in the event of an outbreak in the community.

“We do not have the proper medical facility here and the healthcare professionals,” she said. “We don’t have it here.”

In Fort Liard, there are three permanent nurses, said Deneron. A doctor from outside of the hamlet makes trips to Fort Liard on a day-to-day basis, she added.

Out on the land

Deneron said she’s encouraging residents to get out on the land as a way of practising social distancing. So far, she’s seen many families and community members heed the advice.

With schools closed and kids at home, Deneron said she’s been urging parents to let children play inside and outside — while following social distancing protocol — but she’s stressing a need for households to instill structure so that at-home students can regain a sense of normalcy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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