People in Wekweeti are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel following the arrival of Covid-19 vaccine on Jan. 13.
As a remote community located 195 km north of Yellowknife and accessible only by winter road or airplane, Wekweeti’s 130 residents must travel for most essential services. Vaccinations will give them more security on those trips.
“(We) travel so much for any of our necessities, like for essential services, for dental, for medical, for counselling, for certain (kinds of) shopping that they need to do. They have to go to Yellowknife. (With Covid) they’re at high risk when they go to Yellowknife. It would be nice to see that the community can be safe (with the vaccine),” said Melizia “Zia” Costa, operations manager with the Tlicho Community Services Agency (TCSA).
The rhythms of daily life have been slowly moving closer to normalcy in Wekweeti from the low point in April, when the flight schedule to the community was reduced due to the pandemic and the Snare Lake Lodge – the only accommodations in town –restricted guests to essential personnel.
In the summer, flights went back to their regular frequency of six days a week. Business has almost returned to normal at the five-room lodge, which Costa manages along with Wekweeti’s only store Hozila Naedik’e.
“We no longer restrict anybody (at the lodge). We have guests every week. This week, we have four or five. We have two guests who are here for two months while they do the wilderness training program. Next week, we have the doctor booked in, we have TCSA officials. Northland Utilities will be coming up for a week to finish fixing the power plant and then a crew will be here for six weeks working on the ice roads,” Costa explained.
Activity at the store has been steady. It ticked up over the holidays when the Tlicho Government ordered almost $20,000 worth of food hampers for Christmas. Every household in Wekweeti received a hamper, Costa said.
As a fly-in community, Wekweeti can also take advantage of a relatively high subsidy rate on food through Nutrition North.
“We actually have a $4.30 per kg subsidy. It makes a huge difference,” she said.
Dollars and cents aside, the store became a “public bulletin board” for the community as well, serving as a hub where people could hear the latest news on the Covid pandemic.
“A lot of people here still don’t have internet, so I had access to a lot more resources. I was able to provide the community with as much information as possible as to what was happening,” Costa said.
While the vaccinations offer hope for a return to normalcy, Costa said the slowing down of life during the pandemic has had its benefits. There have been more family gatherings, and, in the summer, there were more picnics and swimming outings at Third Beach, along Snare Lake, just east of the community.
“I think we started to really see how lucky we were being isolated, that we were able to continue to function and get together. We had the land at our fingertips. I think a lot of people got back to some of their roots, going out to the cabin, doing a lot more fishing and, I think, getting to know each other a lot better.”
But Costa still has her eyes firmly on the light at the end of the tunnel. She’s most eager to see a return to more youth activities, which have been disrupted or scaled back amid the pandemic.
Fewer counsellors from the TCSA have come to provide programming for youth at Alexis Arrowmaker School over the last 10 months and young people are waiting for visitors from the Northern Youth Abroad and Dope Experience initiatives to come back.
“We’re still waiting for that full clearance. To me, the kids are the future of Wekweeti,” she said. “There’s so little for the kids to do here. (But) all of the activities coming in keeps the kids busy. It really gets rid of the depression, it breaks the cycle of addictions, it breaks the cycle of all the problems and it keeps them happy.”