Indigenous teens reflect on isolation during the pandemic

Story by CBC Kids News • 2020-10-20 05:59

Borders closed in many remote communities

“Enjoy the quietness.”

That’s what Kaiya Thibault-Jones’s grandmother had to say when asked for advice on how to get through the pandemic.

The 17-year-old was able to go to a sweat lodge with her grandmother recently, where she learned about Ojibway spirituality.

But there was a time when COVID-19 restrictions in northern Ontario’s Garden River First Nation made it hard for Kaiya to see her family.

Map shows Clearwater River Dene Nation and Buffalo Narrows, Saskatchewan and Garden River First Nation in Ontario.

This spring, officials in Garden River set up checkpoints heading onto the reserve and banned visitors from entering.

Indigenous leaders across Canada have taken similar steps as a way to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

It’s been a time of isolation for many Indigenous teens, especially those who are already living in remote communities.

Kaiya’s story

Kaiya Thibault-Jones, 17, said one bright side to the pandemic is she’s been drawing and writing more. (Image submitted by Kaiya Thibault-Jones)

The ban on visitors in Garden River was a problem for Kaiya because her dad lives off reserve in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. 

He wasn’t allowed to visit when the checkpoint was up, even though he’s a member of the First Nation, too.

Instead, Kaiya’s mom had to drive her off reserve to see her dad in town.

“it was kind of hard,” said Kaiya.

Today, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the area remains below 40 and most of them have been resolved.

The border restrictions have also been lifted.

Still, life hasn’t gone back to normal.

There are still no sports at the reserve’s rec centre, for example, and Kaiya said she misses playing basketball.

On the other hand, she’s drawing and writing more, and she and her dad recently learned to fish.

Tannah’s story

Tannah Clark, right, experienced a COVID-19 outbreak where she lives. Her dad, left, is Teddy Clark, chief of the Clearwater River Dene Nation in Saskatchewan. (Image credit: Tannah Clark)

Tannah Clark, 19, lives a couple of provinces away in Saskatchewan.

Her dad, Teddy Clark, is the chief of the Clearwater River Dene Nation, which shares a border with the village of La Loche.

The closely connected communities were part of a significant COVID-19 outbreak that started in April and lasted about three months.

In total, 282 people tested positive — about seven per cent of the population — and five people died.

It was a “traumatic time for everyone in the community,” Tannah said.

At the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in La Loche, Saskatchewan, local authorities introduced a curfew and hired security to police the streets at night. (Submitted by Kalvin Jones)

The area eventually got back down to zero active cases in July, after a serious lockdown.

“I am really proud of my community,” said Tannah, speaking about the sacrifices people made to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

While it was hard, the pandemic was also a chance for Tannah to connect with her roots and get to know the land that her family is from.

She also got to visit her family cabin this summer, which she hadn’t been to in a while.

Meghan’s story

Pandemic restrictions meant that Grade 10 student Meghan Morin couldn’t play on sports teams. (Image credit: Erica Daigneault)

Meghan Morin is a Métis teen living in the nearby Saskatchewan village of Buffalo Narrows, approximately 100 kilometres away from La Loche.

Her community has had more than 20 cases of COVID-19 so far.

Travel restrictions in the province meant that for a while, Meghan couldn’t visit her family in Saskatoon.

Checkpoints like this one in Green Lake, Saskatchewan, were set up in the spring to stop people from travelling to the northern part of the province if they didn’t need to. (Image credit: Don Somers/CBC)

Meghan is also frustrated that she can’t play volleyball, one of her favourite sports, this fall.

Meghan said she’s been spending a lot of time outdoors and trying to stay positive.

One thing she liked was skating on the lake behind her house in the early spring.

Her approach was to “have faith and pray that everything would be OK,” she said.

With files from Bonnie Allen/CBC
TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Graphic design by Philip Street/CBC

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