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Health ᒥᔪᐱᒫᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

Wemindji’s Fred Blackned, a pioneer of modern Eeyou Istchee, falls to Covid-19

May 15, 2020

The Cree Nation Government announced May 11 that former Wemindji Chief Fred Blackned is the third Cree Elder to pass away after a battle with Covid-19. 

Grand Chief Abel Bosum observed that Blackned was one of the last remaining signatories of the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA).

“He, along with the other signatories to the JBNQA, were the heroic pioneers of our Cree Nation who took the unprecedented risk of opposing the James Bay Hydroelectric Project in the early 1970s and took us into the uncharted territory of negotiating Canada’s first modern treaty,” said Bosum in a statement.

The Grand Chief added that Blackned was “armed only with our Cree traditions and practices, with profound respect for the land, and a profound caring for future generations of Crees. They laid the foundation for all the gains that have been made since then in improving the lives of our people, enhancing our governance of our communities and territory, and creating a solid economic foundation for the future.” 

Blackned had been staying at a long-term care facility in Montreal before he passed away at the Montreal General Hospital, according to Jason Coonishish, the Cree Health Board’s coordinator of prehospital and emergency measures.

Two other Elders have also died after being infected with Covid-19. One is Emma Trapper Longchap, who passed on May 4. The second was also in a long-term care facility in Montreal but was not a client of CHB, so there is no official information available other than that the person was from Eeyou Istchee.

“We’re keeping an eye on who we have in the CHSLDs [long-term care housing], but because they belong to Montreal, we don’t get those statistics,” Coonishish explained. “It’s only through family members that we get the news.”

He also expressed his condolences for the families who lost their loved ones. 

CHB Chairperson Bella Petawabano wrote in her May 12 update that “We join the entire Blackned family, and the community of Wemindji, in mourning the loss of a great and wise Elder.”

There was, however, some good news that came out in the latest statistics in Eeyou Istchee.

Since the first case was diagnosed on March 27, the number of Covid-19 cases has remained at 10. Four cases are still active while six people have recovered. There have been 355 tests, of which 332 were negative. 13 others are awaiting results. 

Nemaska announced May 12 that there were no more active cases in the area and that those who had been previously diagnosed had now recovered.

Petawabano added in her update that the stabilization of the number of cases shows that the efforts to limit the spread of Covid-19 in Cree communities are working.

However, she added, “We must continue with our efforts at physical distancing and other precautionary measures, including at camp.”

Coonoshish also reminds people going into the bush to shop locally when buying supplies and avoid larger population centres.

He said that hunters and trappers should wear face coverings while traveling to camps by plane or helicopter. He adds that face coverings are also available at the Cree Trappers’ Association.

Coonishish said that people should continue to practice the same habits they would at home and that those out on the land should be “limiting camps to immediate family, regularly disinfect your camp and outhouses.” He added, “It’s important to have boiled water available for washing your hands regularly.”

Coonishish said that the de-confinement approach will be done carefully. “We plan on keeping it shut down for maybe two weeks after Goose Break.”

Petawabano added that a successful return from Goose Break will determine the first steps towards de-confinement in June.

“Even though our region currently has a good status regarding active Covid-19 cases, we cannot let our guard down,” Petawabano warned. “We must continue to maintain our sacrifices to protect members of our communities, as well as the capacity of our health-care system.”

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