Gabe Kochon, the NWT’s first resident to die from COVID-19, will be remembered by family and community members as a warm, funny man known for his traditional knowledge.
The Fort Good Hope Elder passed away on Aug. 23 at 10:15 p.m. at Stanton Territorial Hospital, said his daughter Rose McNeely. He was 92.
He tested positive for COVID-19 and was medevaced to Yellowknife on Aug. 18 after feeling dehydrated.
“When he was at home with us he had a sniffly nose. He wasn’t coughing or anything. After they medevacked him they said he was really sick two days later,” McNeely said.
Kochon was known as the ‘Dene Professor’ in Fort Good Hope for the depth of his traditional knowledge and fluency in Sahtu Got’ine.
“He tried really hard to push the language for the young people to get their language back. He lived his life to the fullest. He was a really calm and gentle person. I never saw him get mad growing up. He was always jolly.”
Kochon’s niece Snowbird Kakfwi said his many nieces, nephews and grandchildren were very fond of him.
“He lived such a long life. And he had so much Northern knowledge. He always had a story. He told stories about what he had to do to survive on the land and about walking from Fort Good Hope to Colville Lake. But now I’ll never hear those stories again.”
He always told his stories in Sahtu Got’ine, Kakfwi said.
“He was comical all the time. Every time he talked to us he gave us a hug and talked to us like we were his kids.”
Vicky Orlias served on the Elders Committee with Kochon in Fort Good Hope.
She recalls that he always attended the meetings and was the oldest member on the committee.
“He was still setting nets and fishing and hunting in his 90s. I talked to him a lot and he was a nice old man. I’m going to regret him being gone,” Orlias said.
Kochon’s death comes as the NWT experiences its highest active COVID-19 case count since the pandemic began in 2020, with 219 cases among residents most of which are in Sahtu communities, according to an update by the chief public health officer on Aug. 23.