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Cree family finds safe haven on the land for immunocompromised son

BY Ernest Webb Aug 25, 2020

Precautions for Covid-19 took on many forms for people as guidelines and measures came into place. For most it has involved social distancing, wearing masks or working from home. But Louie-Rene Kanatewat of Chisasibi took it to a new dimension.

On April 3, Kanatewat moved his family to Anayaskwayach, their coastal spring hunting area 67 kilometres south of Chisasibi. He took his wife Marlene Shecapio and their five children – Amber (11), Theodore (10), Kaylee (5), Samuel (3) and Talitha (8 months). His father Louie Kanatewat initially escorted and guided them there.

Before the outbreak, Kanatewat said he and his wife were just following their regular routine. “Taking the kids to school and daycare, working, exercising, taking the kids to their extracurricular activities, supper, bed – and then repeat.”

Once the pandemic hit, the decision to isolate the family at Anayaskwayach was an easy one – their son Samuel has special needs. 

“When the travel restrictions and school closures happened, we realized how serious things were getting and decided to move,” Kanatewat said. “The best way to keep our family safe was to head to our coastal camp and completely isolate ourselves from everyone. Samuel has a rare genetic disorder called Trisomy 18 that puts him at a high risk of severe respiratory problems if he gets sick from Covid-19.” 

Samuel, under normal circumstances, would easily catch a cold or the flu from his siblings so Kanatewat’s extended family was very supportive of their move to Anayaskwayach.

The logistics of staying for a long period of time and the distance from Chisasibi requires support from his father, friends and other family members, who supply them with food and fuel every couple of weeks. The Cree Trappers’ Association also contributed fuel and transport under their hunter support initiative. Kanatewat has a generator that helps keep the camp lit and electrified as Samuel needs a CPAP breathing machine to sleep.

The camp is close enough to Wemindji to catch a mobile signal so they can stay in touch. “We are connected to Wemindji’s service using a cellphone booster,” he noted. “We’ve been keeping a Facebook journal for later memories and to keep people posted on how we are doing.”

Kanatewat said his children had no problem adapting to their new lifestyle when they first moved to Anayaskwayach. But when their cousins came to visit, his children started to yearn for Chisasibi.

“When we first got here, it was a honeymoon period for them. But when my brother Greg brought his kids that’s when they sort of wanted to go back.”

As for returning to Chisasibi, Kanatewat said, “There are no plans whatsoever right now. We are monitoring the situation and will see what happens.”

Meanwhile, plans to take Samuel to a dinosaur-fossil museum for his 10th birthday and a vacation to Sydney, Australia, to celebrate their wedding anniversary will have to wait. 

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Ernest (Ernie) Webb is a journalist, filmmaker, and founder of the Nation.