Most Dene communities in the NWT are vulnerable to infection by COVID-19 and need more medical assistance, Norman Yakeleya, national chief of the Dene Nation said Thursday morning.

We have at least 3,200 people that likely need additional medical assistance because they’re in the high-risk (health) category. Eighty-nine per cent of the communities indicate they need additional medical assistance. All of them require disposable gloves, masks and sanitizers,” said Yakeleya about the findings of a survey recently conducted in most of the 27 Dene communities. 

He said there are 15,000 members in the Dene Nation.

The chief was speaking to reporters during a teleconference via satellite phone from his cabin near Beaver Lake, between Fort Providence and Kakisa. He went there to conduct traditional activities on the land and practice social distancing. 

Yakeleya added that 47 per cent of the survey respondents indicated they have no way of medically transporting people to larger communities in case they get sick because more than half of the communities are fly-in only.

The status of COVID-19 swab tests weren’t known in some communities, such as Nahanni Butte and Wrigley, because there are no full-time nurses there, Yakeleya said.

Testing is happening in other communities, such as Tulita, but Yakeleya said tests are conducted there in a local health centre, potentially exposing people to the virus in public.

He said he has been asking health authorities to set up more drive-through clinics  in the communities.

“The picture in our small communities indicates they’re in dire straights. We need help,” he said. “We’re asking the federal government to do whatever it can to get the funding into our Indigenous communities. We’re asking the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs and Public Health to work with our communities.”

The chief said the main priority for the Dene Nation during the pandemic is prevention.

“That is why the Dene Nation is working hard with communities to get them on the land, to tell people to stay home. Life as it was before the coronavirus is no longer our reality today. Things have changed drastically,” he said.

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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