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COMMUNITY REPORT: Covid renders Wekweètì residents quiet but vigilant against pandemic

Wekweètì’s new water plant was approved for use on Oct. 5, 2020. photo courtesy of Facebook

The Covid-19 pandemic has made the pace of life in the small community of Wekweètì even slower and quieter than it was before.

Sitting on the shores of Snare Lake, the Tlicho community of about 140 people is one of the most remote in the NWT, accessible only by winter road or plane, with more than 150 kilometres of wilderness separating it from the nearest community of Gameti to the west.

The Tlicho community of Wekweètì lies more than 190 kilometres north of Yellowknife and accessible only by seasonal road or plane. Google Maps image


Along with all other schools in the territory, Wekweètì’s Alexis Arrowmaker School is closed, confining children to their homes during the day for their mostly paper-based assignments provided by the Tlicho Community Services Agency, said interim senior administrative officer Leeann Rabesca.

Wekweètì’s Elders are abiding by the social distancing guidelines and staying at home. 

Its church has closed, along with the youth centre, which has been set aside as an emergency self-isolation building in case coronavirus reaches the community.

The five-room Snare Lake Lodge hotel has limited its potential customers to essential services personnel such as government officials, medical professionals and technicians, said Zia, who manages the lodge and local store Hozila Naedik’e. She declined to provide her full name. 

“There is no longer room service (at the lodge),” she said. “There are protocols with their companies before they even come here. They've already been tested. They have to social distancing at the store and they don't have contact with the community. They just do the work they have to do when they come here.” 

Quiet but healthy

For Madeline Judas, the community nurse at the health centre, the quietness of Wekweètì has its benefits. 

“Ever since (Covid) started I’ve been posting up posters around the community and in the store explaining that if anyone isn't feeling good we can test them. The posters advise them to always wash their hands. But it seems like the community is kind of quiet. I haven't seen many people come to me. It seems people are healthy here,” she said. 

“I can test the people who want (the Covid test). But I haven't seen anybody come to me. There’s hardly any flu or anything like that in the community.”

Judas is the only permanent health professional in Wekweètì. A doctor and nurse visit every six weeks. 

Less travel, no gatherings

But the slower pace of life has presented quiet difficulties for the community as well. 

The winter road closed on April 10 and the pandemic has reduced the regular six flights per week into Wekweètì to just three, said Rabesca. It constrains the community’s access to the outside world and makes people anxious when they travel. 

“It’s quite a change for us here. We have to wait longer to come back.” 

The most difficult aspect of the pandemic for her is being unable to attend the funerals of loved ones. 

“When people pass on we want to travel to the communities and mourn them but we can’t. We can’t go to the other communities and support them. It’s only immediate family (who are allowed). We can’t do mass gatherings. It’s a big change and it’s hard.”

Few supply worries

Despite the community’s isolation it hasn’t faced many big problems with low supplies. 

The Tlicho Government sends out food hampers and the community government office is well-stocked with masks and gloves, said Rabesca. 

“One of the Tlicho Government staff members are making (masks for us),” she added. 

The store hasn’t run low on any supplies except for sanitary products like hand sanitizer and bleach, said Zia.  

Sanitization protocols for public places haven’t phased her because she believes that health precautions like thoroughly cleaning and wiping down surfaces on a daily basis - especially in a small community - was always a good idea even before Covid.  

“When you have a close knit community where everyone knows everyone else by first name the community comes first at all costs. I think everyone in Wekweètì is doing their part and is well-educated about what to do. We’re standing strong together.”