How community support played a role in these First Nations women's recoveries from COVID-19
'We see each other as a larger family and help each other, and that was a big part in my recovery'
While the number of COVID-19 cases on reserves continues to climb, Indigenous Services Canada reports the majority are considered recovered.
As of May 18, the department reports 134 out of 194 confirmed cases have recovered. CBC News spoke with three First Nations women in Quebec and Ontario about their experiences being among the first people in their communities to contract the virus.
Falen Jacobs is a teacher and mother of two from Kahnawake, Que. She's one of 16 people from the Mohawk community south of Montreal who have contracted COVID-19. Jacobs experienced mild symptoms such as sneezing, loss of taste, and a tickle in her throat that progressed to a mild cough.
"I keep urging people in the community that even if you do have mild symptoms, it's best just to get tested," said Jacobs.
She disclosed her positive test results over social media to give a name and a face to the statistics when news broke of the first positive cases in Kahnawake.
"I was hoping that it would help people to see that anybody can get it. I just wanted to try to end the stigma of shame and blame," said Jacobs, who is 24 weeks pregnant.
"Even though it is scary, a big majority of the people will recover. A lot of media is focusing on the doom and gloom, the death rate, but I think it does give people some hope to see and hear recovery stories."
Jacobs said the support from her community played an important role in her recovery.
"Everyone's positivity was overwhelming," she said.
"We're so fortunate here to be so close within our families but also as a community. We see each other as a larger family and help each other, and that was a big part in my recovery."
While she said it was difficult to self-isolate in her room away from her partner and two young children, Jacobs felt her experience proves the effectiveness of physical distancing and isolation measures. No one else in her household tested positive for the virus.
"Isolation measures do work," she said.
"If you can prevent a spread in your own house, just imagine what people could do. Some people think what they do personally will not have an effect on the greater community, but it does and it will."
Kylie Bressette, 31, and her partner were the second and third people in Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in southwestern Ontario to contract COVID-19. They both tested positive over the Easter weekend and spent five weeks in isolation.
Bressette had been running grocery errands for elders in her community before developing symptoms.
"I was being careful but I was still trying to do more for people who I consider more vulnerable," she said.
Although public health notified those she had come into contact with up to 48 hours prior to developing symptoms, concern for her community prompted Bressette to reach out to everyone she had indirectly come into contact with over the course of the previous two weeks and shared her situation over social media.
"I had an outpouring of support," she said.
"It was quite overwhelming. It's heartbreaking to know that other communities were experiencing the opposite thing, but I feel like coming forward helped the community see what the cases down here looked like because we've had so few," she said.
She said she felt the panic when the first confirmed COVID-19 case was announced in the First Nation.
"In small communities, news travels and rumours spread and it's like that telephone game where the information keeps changing. I knew that could happen," she said.
Now that she has officially recovered, Bressette is stressing the importance of anyone experiencing any symptoms getting tested.
"It could just be a headache and a sore throat, but that's enough. You could potentially have the virus," she said.
"We didn't end up in the hospital at all, we were able to get better from home, but I want to tell anyone who will listen that you don't want to get sick. It drains you and hits you in waves."
Stevie Jonathan is Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River, Ont. Five out of six members of her household tested positive for COVID-19 in March, including her four-month son Emerson.
They all had different symptoms. For Jonathan, it was a tickle in her throat, chest congestion, and loss of taste and smell, whereas her son was sneezing, coughing, and was lethargic.
"It was really stressful," said Jonathan.
"I pretty much didn't sleep because I was up all night trying to watch his breathing."
There have been 11 cases in Six Nations including one death. Jonathan said it was scary to be one of the first families in the community to contract the virus.
"Mainly because of the unknown," she said.
"There were no other cases or families to reach out to and ask what can I expect? At the time the doctors didn't even know how it would go with my son. Every day was so different."
Like Jacobs and Bressette, Jonathan posted her situation on social media and received an outpouring of support from her community and beyond.
"It was really difficult being in isolation for so long but we stuck together and took in the love and support from our community and we got through it," said Jonathan.
While Ontario begins to reopen its economy, Six Nations is one of many reserves keeping its checkpoints up.
"I know the province is starting to open things up but that doesn't mean it's safe," she said.
"People need to realize COVID-19 is not over, there's still a large number of cases and we still need to be vigilant. Stay educated, aware, and try not to live in fear."