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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

We must continue to manage the pandemic

BY Xavier Kataquapit Jul 1, 2021

This has been a worrisome month. After a year and a half of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, like everyone else I was hoping that things would be getting back to normal by now after our world shut down. In many countries, the numbers of cases and deaths have been dropping and just when things were looking good in northern Ontario, the Porcupine Health Unit area had increased cases in the communities of Attawapiskat, Kashechewan, Fort Albany, Moosonee and Moose Factory on the James Bay coast.

Our infection numbers in northern Ontario have been low until recently. This has been because we are more remote and rural so that protects us to a degree. However, with people moving about, air travel and workplaces deemed essential still operating, the virus took hold. There were not many deaths or severe cases along the James Bay coast and in other Indigenous communities across Canada because these First Nations had been prioritized for vaccinations. Many people don’t realize that the vaccines won’t always prevent you from getting the virus, but they will help lower the cases of severe illness and death. That is why it is necessary to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible. Can you imagine the disaster this virus would have created in remote James Bay communities without vaccines?

As vaccines continue to roll out in Canada, we are seeing a decrease in cases and deaths. However, things are starting to open up now and there is a fear that we might not be out of the woods with this virus for some time. There are new variants, like the Delta Variant, that are challenging the vaccines and the experts say there will be more developing. This means we will probably need booster shots at some point to deal with new variants.

It looks like vaccines will most likely not be able to solve this pandemic globally, but they will help us manage it in certain countries and regions. Developed countries that have the most vaccinations will probably manage well, returning to some form of normal over the next year or so. But many parts of the world will not be able to do that. That means we won’t really be safe from this virus because people will move about internationally and Covid-19 will continue to spread as newly developed variants.

The bottom line is that we are living in a new world. We have learned so much about viruses and disease over the past year and a half and that has kept many of us safe. Many people have had to keep working in close quarters in plants, mines, production and distribution centres and essential services. Our governments and public-health units have developed many ways to deal with this virus. We now know our best protection has been wearing of masks indoors in public places, staying two metres apart from others and washing hands often. 

We need to remember that, yes, we can have more freedom, we can get together safely, and we can even begin to travel again. However, we must remember all the things we learned to cope with this virus and the new way we see and understand disease and how it spreads. 

Vaccines have been proven to work and although they might not solve this pandemic on a global basis, they will allow us to manage life in many parts of the world. 

I am very thankful to the Indigenous leadership at the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Chiefs of Ontario (COO), Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN), our tribal councils and Indigenous political bodies across Canada for doing such a great job to lobby the governments so that our communities were prioritized for vaccines. Right now, I can point to the success of that advocacy in the outbreaks that were safely managed on the James Bay coast. 

Thanks also to the federal government, provincial governments, public health units and all those doctors, nurses, paramedics, personal support workers, teachers, as well as all essential workers for risking their well-being to keep us all safe and for propping up our economy. 

Things are looking better every day and we will manage this nasty Covid-19 virus. We all have to remember what we learned over the past year and a half to stay safe. 

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Xavier Kataquapit is Cree from Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast. He is a writer and columnist who has written about his life and Indigenous issues since 1998.