I always say to people that the North saved me.
On the surface I probably looked put together but if I am really being honest, I would say I had lost myself many years ago. That sense of loss would probably have prevailed had I not undergone a major life change.
In January of 2020, I boarded a plane with two suitcases and three Rubbermaid containers, and headed to the hamlet of Aklavik. I have been here ever since and although I go home during the school breaks and have a home in Alberta, a part of my heart will always remain here even when I leave.
I came to the North thinking I was a pretty worldly person and a proud Canadian. Although I lived geographically close to Indigenous communities in Labrador for many years, I really did not have an accurate understanding of the dynamics of those communities. I have been immersed in my Northern community for over two years now and the beauty of Indigenous culture is overwhelming to me at times. This has become even clearer during Covid times.
Let’s face it: the majority of Canadians have tunnel vision when it comes to our Indigenous people. I don’t want to delve into the stereotypes but I would like to share a personal experience that has really prompted me to contemplate our collective ignorance.
I have been out of touch with all the Covid news since I have been here. I don’t have satellite so I am not watching the news like I did when I was down South. Until Jan. 1, 2022, Covid did not exist in my community. Precautions were taken and people were careful, even a bit afraid, which is understandable considering our Indigenous persons’ experience with diseases unfamiliar to them. I had heard stories about “Covid shaming” but had thought that may have been a little bit “propaganda-like”. I was probably living in a little bit of a bubble.
As I was leaving Alberta to head to Aklavik after Christmas break, I got a call from my daughter telling me her friend had tested positive and that she was going to get tested as well. Ironically, Aklavik’s cases of Covid began to rise and school was closed.
I did not panic: I had been triple vaccinated and not around my daughter since her contact. Earlier that week, she had been in contact with my elderly mother but that was prior to her contact and she did the responsible thing, let her know and arranged to be tested. Mom was not positive but my daughter was.
Then panic set in, in every place the plane went down, Yellowknife, Norman Wells, Inuvik. I received texts from people in our circle. They were not texts of support: no one asked if she was OK, and there were hints of condemnation and shaming. These reactions surprised me and frankly, hurt me. I contacted my girl and did my best to support her from afar.
I write this to explain what I faced when I returned to Aklavik. I returned to a community of 600 whose Covid cases rose to almostone-third of the population. As I scrolled Facebook daily, I saw people posting their Covid positive statuses, advising their neighbours and friends that they had been affected.
I saw them thanking community organizations for dropping off test kits, food hampers and cleaning supplies. I saw praying hands and caring emojis in the comments along with endless sentiments wishing better health, continued prayers, offers to pick up food at stores for drop off and I thought “how lucky am I to live and work in this place?”
I continued to think about this sense of community and reflect on my experience with someone I love having Covid.
As Southerners, we need to look at our Indigenous people for wisdom and guidance. They have it and in today’s world we need it. When people are struggling, we need to support them, not ostracize them. We need to be open to that learning.
Charle M. Blow is right.
“One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm.
The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.”
Mahsi/Hai’ to my Aklavik friends for renewing my faith in human kindness.