Fort McPherson navigates COVID-19 outbreak with traditional foods, online language activities

As Fort McPherson grapples with a large COVID-19 outbreak for the first time in the pandemic, those isolating have been able to take comfort in at least one thing, traditional foods. 

Community members in Fort McPherson are staying busy and keeping isolating residents well fed

Fort McPherson is dealing with the highest number of cases it has faced throughout the entire pandemic. But residents are keeping each other well fed with traditional foods and there are online activities for those interested in learning Gwich'in. (David Thurton/CBC)

As Fort McPherson grapples with a large outbreak of COVID-19 for the first time in the pandemic, those isolating have been able to take comfort in something familiar, traditional foods. 

"Our people really share the food," said Mary Taya, an elder in the community. 

She said community members have been delivering home-cooked meals to those who are isolating. 

This includes traditional foods like moose meat, as well as desserts and berries. 

"Most of them would bring cooked berries, cranberries or blueberries — which is something that we would use out on the land, we used a lot of berries like that — it has a lot of vitamin C so we know that it's healing for our people who are not feeling well," Taya said. 

As of Monday evening, there were 88 active cases of COVID-19 in Fort McPherson. 

Taya said the outbreak caught a lot of people off guard, which is why it's important for people to take care of one another. 

"We've been really well right from the beginning, no one had COVID for almost two years," she said. "It just spread really fast in the community." 

Language practice

The lockdown in Fort McPherson has also served as opportunity for community members to practice Gwich'in. 

Bella Martin is a language coordinator in Fort McPherson who was forced to get creative for her job since the outbreak began.

"With the lockdown there's not much we can do in the community," she told Wanda McLeod, host of CBC's Northwind. 

Martin is hosting an event on Facebook where people post a photo of anything in their home and must write the name of it in Gwich'in.

"With people isolating, I thought these contests will keep them busy and occupied in their homes," she said. 

This is one of many different contests she's been holding on Facebook as a way to help people practice the language. 

She said it's been different teaching this way, but she's found it to be a learning experience for her as well. 

"I enjoy hosting these activities and trying to focus on the different ways people learn," she said. 

Pre-lockdown, she would regularly go on the radio with an Elder where they would do trivia questions. 

They would say a word in Gwich'in and get people to call in and say what it means in English and vice versa. 

Martin said the language is an important part of her life and she enjoys the opportunity to share it with others. 

"For me it's a part of my identity," she said, "a part of my culture and who I am and who my grandparents were."

With files from Wanda McLeod