Calgary·LOCAL HEROES

'Our prayers were answered': Volunteer suggests delivering food hampers to every home on Blood Reserve

Elder Keith Chief Moon was isolating with his wife in their home on the Blood Reserve in southern Alberta, and hadn't seen or heard from anyone in days as he didn't want to take a chance going into town to get groceries. Then Cory Black Plume showed up with a hamper full of food.

Since the pandemic began, Cory Black Plume has been delivering food hampers

Cory Black Plume lives on the Blood Reserve in southern Alberta. After he lost his job due to COVID-19, Black Plume began delivering food hampers. He made sure every household received one. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

The groceries were needed but it was the gesture that meant the most to Keith Chief Moon.

Chief Moon, an elder also known as a traditional knowledge keeper on the Blood Reserve in southern Alberta, was isolating with his wife in their home. 

They hadn't seen or heard from anyone in days and didn't want to take a chance going into town to get groceries.

Until Cory Black Plume showed up with a hamper full of food. 

"It was a very timely, well-appreciated time, when he bought the groceries … our prayers were answered and that really touched us, we were almost in tears when he came," says Chief Moon.

"He was our hero."

Keith Chief Moon says Cory Black Plume was the only visitor or contact he had during his quarantine. When Black Plume delivered a food hamper to Chief Moon and his wife, the couple were nearly in tears, they were so grateful. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

Black Plume was facing his own pandemic-related hardships. 

As a driver for the Blood Tribe Reinvestment Initiative, Black Plume was responsible for picking up students throughout the reserve for various classes and courses. 

When in-person learning was discontinued because of the pandemic, Black Plume — who was about to get a full-time position — lost his job.

"I believe we should work. There are jobs out in the world that we can get," says Black Plume. "For me, it's like when I go back to welfare, I don't feel good anymore. I feel little again."

'I'm here … to help our people succeed'

Black Plume has a bachelor's degree in Kainai studies from Red Crow College. He was on his way to getting a masters when the two key people who developed and designed the program died within a year of each other.

"I love the reserve, I love the people, I genuinely want to help who I can. I think that's one of my biggest goals is to help people," says Black Plume.

"I'd rather see us succeed and whatnot, that's why I'm here still is to help our people succeed."

Black Plume says the values he learned getting his degree have come in handy during the pandemic. 

"I got to utilize everything I learned in Kainai studies; learning from place, interaction, being there for the people," says Black Plume.

Keith Chief Moon and Cory Black Plume stand in the parking lot of the rec centre where hampers were assembled for Blood Tribe residents. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

When the coronavirus hit and the community began to organize hampers, Black Plume suggested they go to every home on the reserve instead of singling out more vulnerable populations.

That's more than 1,000 homes.

But Black Plume says that way, people didn't have to feel ashamed accepting help. 

Black Plume and other volunteers set out on their deliveries. 

The Blood Reserve faces similar pandemic-related problems as cities like Calgary: growing unemployment rates, social isolation and bored kids. And, of course, people with COVID-19. 

The Blood Tribe has had 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

But on the country's largest reserve, with its population of about 13,000 spread out over more than 1,300 square kilometres, the isolation is exacerbated. 

'Touched my heart'

As he began to drop off the hampers, Black Plume noticed it was often kids answering the door. They seemed so happy to see a fresh face, he says.

When Black Plume describes the hamper program, he's quick to list off the names of many others involved in the project.

So in finding out Chief Moon had nominated him as a local hero, Black Plume's initial reaction was: "What, me? No!"

But then he considered the gesture for a minute.

"There's someone out there who actually thought of me, it really touched my heart."

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.