Why some are going on the land amid COVID-19 fears

Some people in the Northwest Territories are going on the land for a while, in response to the spread of COVID-19.

'We're asking the government to support our people, put us back on the land,' says Dene national chief

Sheena Snow's family will head out to their cabin this weekend to avoid the spread of COVID-19. (Submitted by Sheena Snow)

Some people in the Northwest Territories are going on the land for a while, in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19.

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in any of the territories to date. But health officials are telling people to keep distance between themselves and others to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

On Sunday, the Northwest Territories chief public health officer suggested getting out onto the land as a good way to create social distance during the pandemic.

'Go to the land'

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya agrees with that recommendation, and is strongly encouraging people to get on the land at this time. 

Recently, he consulted an elder about how Dene should be preparing for the possibility of an outbreak.

"I asked the elder, 'What do we need to do as Dene people with their coming of the coronavirus into Canada?' And the elder said to me, straight in the eyes, he said, 'Go to the land.'"

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya is strongly encouraging people to get out on the land at this time. (Randall Mackenzie/CBC)

Yakeleya said he is also pushing the federal government to support communities to get out on the land.

"We're asking the government to support our people, put us back on the land. Government needs to really seriously consider that. This is the survival of a nation … if they don't do it we're going to do it ourselves."

The Northwest Territories is expected to get just under $600,000 from the federal government's $1-billion fund to deal with COVID-19, according to the territory's premier.

Supplying communities

In Colville Lake, N.W.T., the Behdzi Ahda First Nation Band said on Monday it will be supplying some of its members with supplies such as gas and groceries to take their families on the land.

This comes from part of an annual 'on the land' fund that is unrelated to COVID-19, but this year it has had more interest than other years.

For Sheena Snow, signing up to get those supplies is a direct response to getting her family away from the potential spread of COVID-19. 

Sheena Snow said her children love being out on the land. She plans to take them to her family's cabin this weekend for about two weeks. (Submitted by Sheena Snow)

Safety Reasons

For her, getting out on the land this weekend is a matter of safety.

"It's kind of dangerous for us because we're in such small, isolated communities, and also we have no health-care system here, there's no doctors [or] nurses here for us. So we figure it's safer to be out on the land."

Snow said one of the reasons they want to leave this weekend is because teachers from down south will be coming back from their spring break soon.

Sheena Snow says getting out of the community is a matter of safety for her family. (Submitted by Sheena Snow)

Unnecessary travel outside of the territory is already being warned against by the territory's chief public health officer to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Every province in Canada now has reported cases of the virus.

'Everything out there we need'

Snow also said her children enjoy being at her family's cabin about an hour north of the community.

"We have everything out there we need, and there's lots of food out on the land, like there's caribou, there's fish."

Ultimately, Yakeleya said he wants to protect people living in communities across the territory, and this is just one step toward doing that. 

"It's the safety of our people. It's a humanitarian driven cause. Doesn't matter if you're Métis, Dene, or Inuit, or non-Native in our communities. We've got to look at how we're going to prepare ourselves if ever we have coronavirus."

Yakeleya said he will be getting out of his community with family on Friday, to be on the land for a while as well.