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Community report: Tradition and social distancing collide in Deline

Spare time spent social distancing may have an upside for Deline residents looking to reconnect with their traditions.

For them, the pandemic has offered an opportunity to return to  traditions and customs while staying home from work, according to Leeroy Andre, who holds the title Ɂek'wahtı̨dǝ́ in the community. It means "highest honest leader" in the Deline Got'ine dialect.

“We’ve lost base with our traditional upbringings, which in the old days was taught to a lot of us by our grandparents and our parents. Our language, our way of life, and life on the land,” Andre said.

Some community members have taken social distancing as an opportunity in Deline.
NNSL File photo

“I think now’s a great time to (bring) that back to our kids, especially when they’re not in school.”

He suggested this was a time to learn traditional skills and find new ways to teach them while socially distancing. Personally, he’s taken to teaching his granddaughter his language with the newfound spare time.

“What a great opportunity,” he said. “You (used to) come home from work, dead tired, have food, watch a movie and then you go to bed. Now you have all day. We never had that before.”

Other elements require more tact, however. On Friday morning, for example, he was considering how the community could complete a fire feeding ceremony without putting any members at risk.

There were a few options. For one, drummers could stand two meters apart, and Elders could also have their offerings delivered instead of going in person, he said.

In other cases, he hopes to encourage Elders to pick up traditional tools again, including making snowshoes and drums, while passing those skills onto future generations.

Alternatively, he said, time could also be spent ice fishing or going on the land. As proof of the former’s returning popularity, he said he recently noticed more shacks appearing on the lake.

And for those members going out on the land, the first nation has subsidized their supplies, he said.

Beyond those supports, he said the community has spent almost $1 million in various Covid-19 response efforts during the crisis, including individual payouts to beneficiaries.

Outside of relief efforts, Deline has also placed protective restrictions on the community. Regular shipments of mail and groceries are allowed, but passenger flights have largely been cancelled.

As a self-governing community, it also moved to prohibit all drugs and alcohol in the community. Before that order, liquor was allowed in the community, but in controlled quantities.

This is part of the process of taking the proper precautions during the pandemic, according to Andre.

For some community members, though, that risk still appears to be a far-off threat.

“I think for the most part right now, it’s not really a big reality for a lot of people,” he said. “They haven’t taken it too seriously for a lot of our Elders and some of our community members.”

Part of the challenge is learning how to keep social networks alive while respecting social distancing rules, he said. That can be difficult in a close-knit community.

"(Staying) social is such a big part of our traditional upbringing,” Andre said. “To not associate, to not say ‘hi,’ or shake each others hand, is a big impact on our social structure in the community.”