It’s not easy to hold a carnival during a pandemic.
In fact, it was touch and go for a while whether K’amba Carnival, the annual winter festival of K’atlodeeche First Nation, would take place this year, but in the end it is a go.
Organizers had to work hard to get approval to go ahead by significantly changing many aspects of the carnival in light of Covid-19.
Some long-running events will not take place at the carnival which began on March 1 and will run to March 7, such as the popular hand games and a crafts market, and large gatherings are being avoided.
“We asked the public health officer if we could host the carnival this year,” said Aaron Tambour, chairman of the K’amba Carnival Committee. “We did give them kind of a breakdown of what we planned to do to try to make the event Covid-safe. We altered some of our events.”
For example, Tambour said that pretty much all indoor events will be presented live on the K’amba Carnival Facebook page, while the youth and adult talents shows will be done by video submissions.
Tambour said approval was received from the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer in the second week of February, after which organizers also received the go ahead from the band council of K’atlodeeche First Nation.
“It was looking like we weren’t going to go ahead with it for a bit there,” said Tambour. “Then we got the approval and we just decided, ‘OK, let’s just get together what we can and try to do it in a safe manner.'”
Normally, organizers would have several months to get everything together for the carnival, but that time was reduced to just a few weeks.
“It’s definitely been a crazy few weeks,” said Tambour, noting there have been six main organizers and 17 volunteers altogether.
Tambour said that one reason it is important to hold the carnival this year is that it is closing in on a milestone anniversary.
“Next year would be our big 40 and we’ve kind of been hoping to get to that right away,” he said. “We just wanted to have the big 40 next year. So we figured why not have the 39th and try to do it in a Covid-safe way.”
Dr. Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer for the NWT, said her office worked with carnival organizers on their Covid-19 plans, mainly through an environmental health officer in Hay River.
“A number of the activities will be done online and the other ones will be done in a way where they can maintain appropriate physical distancing and limit any possibility of causing enough of a congregate setting to have Covid transmission,” she said.
Kandola said she was briefed on preparations for the carnival, and said it will be done in a way that is safe and maintains public health measures.
Chief April Martel praised the efforts of Tambour and the other organizers to see this year’s carnival become a reality.
“He’s been telling council what we can do, what we can’t do. So it’s been very good,” said Martel. “He’s been very up front with us.”
While some activities will not be going ahead this year and most others have been changed in one form or another because of Covid-19, some new things have been added.
That includes a parade on March 5 from the Dene Wellness & Development Centre to the arbour, followed by fireworks.
“It’s an outdoor event, and there’s been parades happening,” said Tambour. “So we figured that’s probably something that we could just toss in there to give the people a little something extra.”
Plus, there will be a snow sculpture contest in which people can make creations in front yards on the Hay River Reserve and in Hay River.
“It’s another new event that’s going to be fun, I think,” said Tambour.
The snow sculptures will be judged and prizes awarded for the top three creations.
While activities have been changed, added or dropped, another significant difference is K’amba Carnival is longer this year, running a full week from March 1-7.
“We really want to limit the crowds,” Tambour said. “So we don’t want to have too many people in one place at once. We just wanted to spread it out so that it’s a little more safe for everyone, and just have basically an event per day during the week. And once the weekend came, then we’ve got a couple of events going on during the day.”
The organizer also said that people should only attend events if they are participants.
“Our events will be limited,” he said. “We’re trying to reduce it to mainly have the contestants in the events, like the outdoor events and stuff like that. So we’re trying to encourage people only to come over if they’re participating.”