Blood Tribe elder and residential school survivor dies of COVID-19

A Blood Tribe elder who survived one of Canada's residential schools has died of COVID-19.

'Our elders are our most precious resource,' said Derrick Fox

Adrian 'Buck' Many Fingers died of complications related to COVID-19 this week, according to the Blood Tribe. (Blood Tribe communications/YouTube)

A Blood Tribe elder who survived one of Canada's residential schools has died of COVID-19.

Derrick Fox, CEO of the Blood Tribe's health department, announced the death, which was the first on the reserve, in a YouTube video on Friday.

"Our elders are our most precious resource and we ask that you respect their homes and their space. They are a vulnerable population," Fox said.

The video identified the elder as 76-year-old Adrian "Buck" Many Fingers. 

An online obituary described Many Fingers as a gifted athlete and cowboy, who attended St. Mary's Residential School as a child.

"Buck was born to be a real cowboy from breaking and training horses, taking care of cattle on the back of his horse, and able to fix just about anything with what he had," the obituary read. "He was known to be a hard and tireless worker, a great and humorous storyteller, both generous and kind, and a great neighbour and a friend to so many."

Residential schools were part of a federal policy to assimilate First Nations children by removing them from their communities and sending them to schools run by the government and churches. The schools left a legacy of abuse, disappearances and deaths.

12 active cases

As of Friday, a total of 28 people had tested positive for COVID-19 on the reserve. Of those, 12 cases were still active.

"It is very important to keep our elders safe," Rick Soup, Blood Tribe's director of emergency management, said.

"Now we need to get back on track and lower our confirmed cases by again staying at home and only travelling for essential reasons. Practice safe hand hygiene."

Soup said while he knows it has been a hard time, he said it continues to be important for everyone to continue to abide by health recommendations to keep the community safe.

He said if people are living in homes that are overcrowded or with elders who have precarious health, they can consider relocating to shelters that have been set up to allow for self isolation or better physical distancing.

More than 1,900 tests have been completed on the First Nation, Soup said.

State of local emergency continues

The Blood Tribe has been under a state of local emergency since March 16.

"We are still in a state of local emergency and we still have a curfew in place. Nothing has changed there … although there is an easing of restrictions around the province of Alberta, our local laws such as our emergency protection bylaw are in force," said police Chief Kyle Melting Tallow.

Melting Tallow said close to 500 warnings have been issued for not complying with pandemic-related bylaws.

First Nations across Canada have implemented curfews, lockdowns and checkpoints in efforts to keep residents safe during the pandemic.

Experts have expressed concerns that COVID-19 could disproportionately hit Indigenous communities, which could be at higher risk for negative health and economic outcomes.