In the Designated Authority of the Jean Marie River First Nation, Chief Stanley Sanguez was thrilled this week that his members will have the opportunity to go out on the land during the pandemic.
Earlier in the week, the federal government announced $2.6 million will go to Indigenous families going out on the land as a method of physical distancing. The announcement was made in a news release March 30.
Jean Marie River First Nation ended up getting $28,000, Sanguez said.
“Our community is doing good,” he said. “We are isolated and we got some (federal) money (Thursday) and some community members are gearing up to go out in the bush which is good. We finally got the money today to go ahead and we are just putting together some names and groups and numbers of people that are going to go. ”
Money will go toward the purchase of buy gas, oil and food, he said, but he does have some concerns.
“The only concern I have is that I don’t know what stores we could go to to have a bulk order for our community because not too many are allowed to go to the store,” he said. “That is a concern for our communities here.”
The community of about 74 people in the Dehcho region is about a 128 km drive to Fort Simpson and 359 km from Hay River.
Sanguez said a good portion of the population is between 40 to 60 years old with youthful energy wanting to get out to the bush.
“A lot of the younger ones between those ages are wanting to go out to the bush and I am so happy they are all geared up,” he said. “It is a good sign because it really makes you want to go back out on the land. I encourage it so much here and that is what we need to do here. And that is what we are going to be doing.”
Sanguez said he and his community have been in lockdown for a few weeks now after an emergency meeting was held on March 16. Members are securing the road turnoff from the Mackenzie Highway at Kilometre 374 and there is a large plywood sign warning visitors to stay out.
“The main message here to our public is to make sure they stay a distance and isolation is the only way it is going to work,” he said. “If you keep mingling among our people, it is going to keep mixing and keep mixing and it is not going to stop.
“If we say we are going to do lockdown in our community, please do that.”
The band office was closed on March 24 and a notice says the closure will continue until April 6, but essential services remain available to members, he said. All community and public events will be cancelled until at least the end of April.
Two more cases of COVID-19 were reported Thursday night, bringing the territory’s total up to four — two in Yellowknife, one in Inuvik and another in an unidentified smaller community.
Sanguez said there had been concern about one member having symptoms and a test had been conducted.
“There was a concern and we did some testing and hopefully some results will be coming in (Friday) I heard,” he said.
“Hopefully we will get a good call that we will be in the clear but it will never be in the clear from here on because it is going to be an ongoing issue with our community in the long run. It is going to be a wake-up call for all the communities of the Mackenzie Valley as to how we work together on this.”
Other NWT communities have mentioned concern about their Elders as it comes to protecting the most vulnerable of their memberships. There are there about four to five elders in the community. Sanguez said he was less worried as long as people are following the rules.
“As long as you stay the distance -which we are practising here- then I don’t have to worry so much about the Elders,” he said. “As long as you keep them cooped up and open a window to let some fresh air in. As long as everyone is staying away six feet from somebody else, we’re good to go here.”
Food and emergency supplies
For the most part, the community seems well stocked with food and supplies, Sanguez said, but it is being monitored on an ongoing basis. The community has some membership in Hay River keeping an eye on what is available at the Super A Foods store and the community is in contact with the Northern stores in both Hay River and Fort Simpson to find opportunities to buy items as needed.
The First Nation is quite a distance between Fort Simpson and Hay River, so there are difficulties when it comes to members not having vehicles to get items.
“With us we try to keep an eye on our people that don’t have vehicles that need to do it,” he said of their lack of access to food supply. “We are trying to get together with our council over the next day or two to see how we can distribute the (federal) money. There are a number of ideas right now.”
He said there are problems with alcohol in the community which may pose problems with people mingling during the pandemic. It is something he is imploring members to address by staying home.
“We are not immune to alcohol in our communities and right now by word of mouth we are telling people that if you are going to do it, do it at home and don’t go out,” he said. “I don’t care what you guys do but stay inside.”
Sanguez said there are a few workers out to ensure essential services are always going including water, sewage and road service as well as the Jean Marie River Airport.
Most are in constant contact because all have radios, noting that community workers like the lay dispenser, foreman and secretarial workers all have radios to talk to each other, which helps with communication.
Members in the community seem to be well informed as they are continually watching television and listening to radios and picking up health and safety tips from being on Facebook, which he says is encouraging.