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Two Cree recover from COVID-19

BY Dan Isaac Apr 17, 2020

While the numbers from the Cree Board of Health’s April 15 COVID-19 public update showed that the region was the least infected in all of Quebec, Cree leadership insists the parade will have to wait. 

On April 15, two of the six Cree (one in Montreal, three in Chisasibi, two in Nemaska) confirmed to have the coronavirus had recovered. There had been no new cases in the region since April 8, even though 41 COVID-19 tests had conducted – and 13 people were still awaiting results.

To date, 178 tests had been administered by the CBH, with 160 of them coming back negative. According to a representative from Public Health, however, until the final test comes back negative, the contact-tracing process will be maintained. 

CNG Executive Director Bill Namagoose applauded the CBH’s response to the pandemic in curtailing the infections in Cree territory. He also noted that collaboration by Cree institutions played an important role. 

But Namagoose cautioned Crees to be patient. 

“It doesn’t take much to have a setback and be back at square one,” he warned those considering breaking social distancing protocols in order to see friends or family. 

In this case, economics followed health markers in Eeyou Istchee. While most of the world’s economies have been reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, in Namagoose’s estimation Cree jobs have remained relatively secure. 

“I don’t want to give exact numbers, significant layoffs have happened in the mines and at AirCreebec,” Namagoose told the Nation. “However, the Cree Nation Government, band councils, the school and health boards have not followed suit. Most of our jobs tend to be on the governance side as opposed to the economic side.”

He also said assistance for Cree entrepreneurs is on the way, and would be available through the CNG Department of Commerce and Industry. 

Despite the good news, no timetable was provided on how or when regular life would resume in Eeyou Istchee. The statement did recognize that the authority to decide those measures would be given to regional health directors. 

Earlier this month, Quebec Premier François Legault suggested Quebec’s schools might reopen on May 4 – then walked that statement back at a following daily COVID-19 update. The CSB remains steadfast in their plans, if the health board agrees.

“Regardless of what the premier said, our plan has not changed,” said CSB Chairperson Sarah Pash. 

The initial target date of opening schools May 1 with Goose Break keeping students out of schools until May 15 remains. But Pash also noted that they would “rely on the direction of the Cree Health Board,” in the reopening of Cree schools. 

For now, one of the main focuses of the CSB will be getting post-secondary students back to Eeyou Istchee and then, once they are home, making sure they feel supported. 

Protocols for returning to each Cree community depends on local directives. The CSB is focused on educating and informing students returning home. But once they’re there, another challenge awaits. 

“There is a real possibility that online programming for post-secondary students is going to continue until at least next fall,” Pash noted. “If our students want to continue in that capacity, we will support them in the same way as if they are attending in person. 

“It really depends on the students and what they want to do,” she continued. “Not only are they trying to finish their programs and do their exams, but they have the added pressure of a pandemic. They need to know that what they’re doing is important for their community’s future.”

The coming weeks will provide clarity, but for now, continuing to do what has made Eeyou Istchee relatively infection-free remains the priority. 

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Dan Isaac is a Mi'kmaq and Mohawk journalist with a BA in Creative writing from Concordia University. He’s been writing for the Nation since 2016.