The community of Whati, about 165 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife has become a quieter place as most residents stay home during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“I drive around now and I hardly see anyone out walking,” chief Alfonz Nitsiza said. 

“I see some (young people) go out to the lake and they check their (fishing) nets. I’ve seen some snowmobiles around. (But) there’s not much to be done except stay at home.”

MeziCommunityschool.jpg John Curran/NNSL photo Mezi Community school (the large brown building) in Whati. Aug. 2008

Several families have gone out onto the land and to cabins that are on the islands on Lac la Martre.  

“They come back for a while and then they go back out,” Nitsiza said. “We have people helping others with gas and food that they want to take out onto the land.” 

The First Nation has been telling residents to stay home, to constantly wash their hands and it has programs to deliver food to homes when necessary. 

“We’ve been talking on the radio in our language and giving them updates on how serious this virus is. We don’t know how long this will last.” 

Closures slowing activity

Offices and public places in the Tlicho community of about 500 people are closed except for the local store and health centre, which has reduced its hours. 

While access to other communities is maintained through the ice road, the closure of most offices in Whati and elsewhere has led to a reduction in the flight schedules. 

“We had scheduled flights six days a week, sometimes twice a day but now they’ve decreased them to three flights per week. All the services are down. There were a lot of government people coming and going for meetings but they’re all done by teleconferences now,” the chief said. 

In normal times, Whati residents would use the winter road to stock up on food in Yellowknife and sometimes in Edmonton to “take off the pressure on the local store,” Nitsiza said. 

For now the store remains well-stocked and the Tlicho regional government has stepped in to help ensure there is sufficient food by sending in food hampers. 

Residents are also staying home because several were laid off from their jobs in the diamond mines. Diavik, Gahcho Kue and Ekati have all suspended or reduced operations as a pandemic safeguard, and sent home workers. 

“More than 10 people were laid off from Dominion and Gahcho Kue and Diavik (and) and they’re not getting paid from the mine. We’re helping those employees to get access to EI and other money that might be available from the federal government. We have staff working with these people.” 

Healthy but fearful

There is no full-time doctor in Whati but the full-time nurses in the health centre are doing well for now, Nitsiza said. 

The Tlicho Community Services Agency, based in Behchoko has plans in place to send out the proper medical personnel in case there is an outbreak. 

Still, residents are aware of their vulnerability in case the virus reaches Whati and there is fear in the community of what could happen. 

“With social media people are scared all the time. Because of this virus, things are happening every week and every day and every hour. People are really trying to listen and expecting some change.

“Especially hearing from the Elders when there’s no church service in the community on Sundays. It’s hard for them to take that because the Elders pray a lot. On Fridays we used to gather for rosary prayers in the evening. That’s not happening. That really says a lot about the seriousness of what’s happening. (The Elders) advise young people to pray more until this thing passes.”

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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