Chief Stanley Sanguez of tiny Jean Marie River is pleased to hear that the GNWT is planning to ease pandemic-related restrictions but is fearful of any chance the virus threat could come back.
“We are prepared for (reopening) but in the back of our minds, we know that this thing is still there until they find a vaccine,” Sanguez said this week. “We know that there’s vaccines being tested out and we’re saying okay it’s gonna open but at the same time we’re still telling members, ‘Just be careful.'”
Like many other Dene community leaders throughout the North that NNSL Media has contacted during the pandemic, Sanguez continues to worry about the impacts of alcohol and drug addiction could have to the health of his people in the event the virus ever did reach the Dehcho community of just under 100 people.
“There’s a worry and a scare of the second wave coming in and we’re not sure how or what form it might come in,” he explained this week. “It’s kind of a mystery to us but we’re encouraging our people here when we had a (recent) council meeting … to kind of leave that stuff alone (alcohol and drugs) and try to get their immune systems ready for any cold that might come in.”
The chief is recommending members collect rosebuds that can be found in the bush.
“If you collect them and boil them and strain them, the juices in the rosebuds have a lot of vitamin C, so we’re trying to encourage our people here in our communities to see if we could start doing that,” he said.
Peter Hope, the CBC’s Dehcho Dene radio broadcaster, is helping to promote healthy living including avoiding intoxicants over the airwaves in traditional Slavey.
Sanguez said that Jean Marie River has been strictly following the guidelines of the chief public health officer of the GNWT, Dr. Kami Kandola. At the same time, the chief is concerned about the GNWT’s ability to respond to the unique needs of small communities like his.
And he is worried and uncertain as to how to combat Covid-19 if it ever reaches his community.
“When we do have our call with Premier Caroline Cochrane and Dr. Kandola, we hear their concerns from the scientists’ perspective,” Sanguez said. “We say, ‘OK premier, these are the concerns in our communities and if somebody gets really sick here, what do we do?'”
Sanguez said he doesn’t know if a person with symptoms should be quarantined in their homes, if they should be removed or if a separate structure should be built in the community to house people who contract it.
Right now there aren’t any separate buildings to house people in an emergency and emergency resources are few, which is a request he has made and something he is working on with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, he said.
“We really don’t have anything here except the community hall and we don’t have beds or even cots for that matter (for) ones that are really sick,” he said, noting that otherwise it may mean that the GNWT would have to fly members out to centers like Yellowknife for quarantine. “It’s always at the back of my mind and I know that the council’s expressed that same thing.”
The community still has a sign at the turn off into the community from Highway 1, which has been effective in keeping unknown or non-essential visitors from entering during the pandemic. Keeping the NWT closed from Alberta and BC closed has been an additional and welcome move by the GNWT as well, he said.
Access to masks
Sanguez says he remains worried about members who travel outside the community and about not wearing masks. He has asked the GNWT to assist in getting masks but is working at getting supplies from Hay River-based MSS Ltd., which provides medical supplies.
He noted that they recently ran out, but he is hoping to get some masks and gloves. He’s encouraging members to stock up on food and supplies in preparation of a second wave of the coronavirus.
“The fear is that the second wave might be more powerful and dangerous and might kill people,” he said. “So we want to be prepared for that as much as we can.”