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The Dene Nation’s first ever Education Summit has been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.

The meeting was to take place at the K’atl’odeeche First Nation in Hay River March 17 and 18.

“We want to be on the safe side and to be vigilant and (K’atl’odeeche First Nation) Chief April Martel advised us to postpone the educational summit and to start to look at community response plans, because many of our people travel to meetings on our behalf,” Dene Nation chief Norman Yakeleya said Wednesday afternoon.

The Dene Nation Education Summit has been postponed out of concern of the risks of COVID-19, said Dene Nation Chief Norman Yakeleya. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

More than 60 people were scheduled to attend the summit, including several keynote speakers such as Dr. Stephen Cornell from the University of Arizona and Dr. Angela James, director of the Indigenous languages and learning secretariat for the GNWT’s Department of Education, Culture and Employment.

The summit’s purpose was to engage Dene leadership and a form a vision for Indigenous education that includes culture and language and mental health supports.

The leadership of the Dene Nation would continue to closely monitor the situation with COVID-19 and the summit would be held when it’s safe to do so, Yakeleya said, though he couldn’t speculate on possible future dates.

“The safety of our communities is so important, especially the communities that are isolated and don’t have full-time nurses,” he said.

“This raises a lot of memories for elderly people because they’re the most vulnerable now along with young children. In some of our communities we have houses that are overcrowded, with bad ventilation, lack of sanitation. We’ve got to look at that. But our older people, this situation brings back memories of the flu epidemics of the 1920s.”

The chief added that the Dene Nation is also monitoring the health of some of its members who attended the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) 2020 mining conference in Toronto last week.

“We’ve got to find out where they’ve been, if they’re being tested, if they’re being quarantined.”

One person from Sudbury, Ont. who attended PDAC has tested positive for COVID-19, and the organization that stages the massive networking event on Wednesday issued a notice to attendees that urged them to monitor their health.

Several other people from the NWT, including members of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines and GNWT cabinet minister Katrina Nokleby attended PDAC.

Yakeleya added that the Dene Nation leadership is considering a lock down and recommending its chiefs not attend events and meetings outside Yellowknife to keep them safe in case a COVID-19 outbreak occurs in the territory.

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Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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