PEI

Mi'kmaq community finding ways to come together and maintain tradition during COVID-19

Social media is helping the Mi'kmaq community on P.E.I. stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

'As Indigenous people, we function in gatherings'

A photo by Patricia Bourque of a young man in full regalia dancing at a powwow. (Submitted by Patricia Bourque. )

The Mi'kmaq community in P.E.I. is finding creative ways to maintain culture and tradition during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of gathering in person, though, they are relying largely on social media to stay connected. 

The Mi'kmaq rights-based organization L'nuey launched a group on Facebook called The Ultimate Mi'kma'ki Virtual Mawio'mi, to celebrate Mi'kmaq culture while still adhering to the public health office's rules about staying apart, said Richard Lush, engagement officer with L'nuey.

"In Mi'kmaq, the word mawio'mi means gathering," he said. "We're trying to gather all of our friends, our brothers and sisters and our allies across Atlantic Canada."

Lush said L'nuey is inviting people across Mi'kma'ki — which encompasses the four Atlantic provinces — to participate in the group by sharing videos of people dancing, drumming or singing.

Social media 'has been a blessing'

"Our people like to celebrate and connect as a group but during this time we're unable to see each other in person," he said.

"This provides an opportunity to still connect with our family, friends and allies." 

Junior Peter-Paul has been delivering cedar to elders. (Submitted by Junior Peter-Paul)

Lennox Island Chief Darlene Bernard said L'nuey's online initiative is growing beautifully.

"So many look forward to the powwows and mawio'mis to see friends and family," she said in an email to CBC.

People can submit videos of dancing in regalia, art work or story telling — as long as those in the videos are adhering to physical distancing.

Lynn Bradley is the Aboriginal Mental Health and Addictions program coordinator with the Native Council of P.E.I. —  a group that represents over 1,000 off-reserve members.

She said social media has been crucial in helping people stay connected.

"It really has been a blessing," she said.

"As Indigenous people, we function in gatherings … and we're constantly in contact or some kind of connection with our community members."

'Connects us back to our roots'

P.E.I.'s chief public health officer has banned gatherings of more than five people and has been adamant that people respect physical distancing and stay home as much as possible.

Bradley said the community has been heeding that advice but said it's been a challenge.

Bundles of cedar at the Native Council of P.E.I. (Submitted by Junior Peter-Paul)

"When you're doing an honour song or you're a jingle dress dancer and you're dancing for healing — these things aren't normally recorded," she said.

Bradley said the NCPEI is supporting its community in other ways as well, such as sharing cultural information through the organisation's language and drumming coordinator.

"I'm just so impressed with the coordinated efforts of all Indigenous organizations especially across P.E.I.," she said.

Chief Junior Gould of the Abegweit First Nation said he's helping close to 500 people both on and off-reserve and said the community has enacted its emergency measures plan to provide financial and administrative support.

He said the community's medical team has been providing transportation, cleaning supplies and food baskets to elders.

"It's all about giving people the power, the tools to take care of themselves," he said.

Gould said he's also been using social media regularly to keep people updated on his initiatives.

It's important to remain positive, he said, and one of the ways he's doing that is by hosting a bingo night over Facebook live.

"If you notice on the bingo that we did, there was some traditional drumming playing in the background," he said.

"That connects us back to our roots and where we come from. So we try our best to support the culture and identity. It's something that's important to us."

Restricting visitors

Lennox Island Chief Darlene Bernard is also keeping people informed with regular updates on her Facebook page.

On Friday, Lennox Island First Nation decided to restrict visitors to protect elders and vulnerable residents. It installed signs saying that only residents and essential workers will be allowed to come and go.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.
  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isabella Zavarise is a video journalist with CBC in P.E.I. You can contact her at isabella.zavarise@cbc.ca

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