VIRGINIE ANN THE EASTERN DOOR
Safety measures signs for COVID-19 quickly became part of our reality.
Last year, whispers of a new disease made their way around the world, as images coming from Wuhan, China, showed the first complete lockdown caused by the COVID-19 virus. The vision was surreal.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. Since then, the now-infamous COVID-19 not only claimed thousands of lives in Quebec, but also brought with it an ocean of speculation, misinformation and contradictory messages from health experts and governments.
Here, in Quebec, the approach was “ça va bien aller” – a statement that has been promoted for the past year while the province continues to comply with safety measures.
While following along with the provincial guidelines, both Kanesatake and Kahnawake personalized their approach in order to protect their members. A year later, a total of 106 Kahnawa’kehró:non tested positive, compared to less than 30 cases in Kanesatake.
Here’s a look at what happened in the Kanien’kéha communities:
Throughout the month of March, stricter and stricter measures were implemented in Quebec – peaking at the complete banning of indoor and outdoorsgatherings.
In Kanesatake, the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) was created on March 13, to oversee and protect the community, while preventing the spread of the disease. By the end of the month, the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake had declared a state of emergency on its territory.
This followed the complete closure of all businesses, while access to the community was prohibited to non-locals. The Riverside Elder’s Home closed its doors to all visitors to protect residents.
Kanesatake’s sister community Kahnawake acknowledged the critical situation in early March by launching Kahnawake 911, a Facebook page for health-related information.
The Kahnawake COVID-19 Task Force was activated on March 19, with a mandate similar to the ERU. A few days later, it announced the community’s first positive case, forcing the closure of all non-essential business and sports events within the territory.
Kanesatake’s schools were indefinitely shut down for the rest of the academic year as all classes were moved online. Five checkpoints were erected around the community in order to monitor the traffic and secure the roads.
One of them was initially set up near Oka Park, but was later moved closer to the Pines, as the Oka mayor, Pascal Quevillon, retracted his support of the checkpoints. The Surete du Quebec indicated that it was illegal for Kanesatake to control the roads.
In Kahnawake, all stores were closed to non-locals, with the threat of receiving non-compliance fines. On April 21, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake officially declared a state of emergency in the community. The council also launched the $9 million Economic Relief Measures Fund, for business owners and unemployed workers.
May, June & July
Safety measures loosened up with the warmer days. To everyone’s relief, small outdoor gatherings were permitted. At this point, Kanesatake still had zero positive cases.
The ERU started to offer a mobile clinic for community members to get tested. The re-opening of Oka Park caused a lot of turmoil as the community witnessed what they felt were too many visitors rolling in. The Quebec government implemented greater safety measures after Kanesatake blocked access to the park. The five checkpoints were moved deeper within the territory as businesses also reopened.
In Kahnawake, businesses slowly started to reopen. Family members from outside the community were allowed to visit as travel restrictions within the country were lifted. The community entered phase two of its reopening, with dine-in restaurants, outdoor sports, activities and fitness classes now permitted.
Following the provincial requirement, as of Monday, June 20, face masks became mandatory in indoor public places, in both communities. Even with the latest measure, a sense of normalcy lingered on for the hottest months of the summer.
While Quebec increased its gatherings from 50 to 250 people, the first positive cases were declared in Kanesatake. Eight people ended up contracting the virus throughout the month of August – feeding into the fear of a second wave.
In Kahnawake, the Task Force postponed the re-opening of bars and gaming facilities, due to the increase of cases in the province. However, indoor gyms and fitness centres received the green light.
According to top health official Dr. Horacia Arruda, the second wave hit the province of Quebec in September.
With the start of the new academic year, all classes were moved online in Kanesatake.
In Kahnawake, after more than six months of being shut down, gaming establishments reopened at the beginning of the month. Parents were given the option for their children to attend remote classes, on-site learning or a mix of both.
By the end of the month, the COVID-19 death toll surpassed one million globally.
A new lockdown was ordered in Quebec to counter the second wave. Both communities moved to the red zone, the highest level of COVID-19 alert. Wilkinson “Boy” Etienne became the first community member to die of COVID-19 in Kanesatake, on October 11. While most events had been cancelled, the community decided to offer a socially-distanced Halloween to its members.
Kahnawake also reinforced its safety measures. Bars, restaurants and the gaming industry were once again asked to shut down. No more visitation was allowed at the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre, Turtle Bay Elders’ Lodge, and the Independent Living Centre (ILC). While the Task Force implemented a ban on indoor and outdoor gatherings, two chiefs from the council were obliged to issue a public apology after attending a private party.
In Quebec, cases surpassed 100,000 on October 25 – forcing the government to extend its lockdown.
Both communities tried to keep the morale of their members up as the holiday season approached.
In Kahnawake, the Task Force allowed a maximum of two households to gather as mental health struggles were highlighted by community members.
On December 9, the Pfizer vaccine became the first COVID-19 vaccine approved in Canada, shortly followed by Moderna. A few days later, Quebec announced its vaccine priority list, with elders, healthcare workers and Onkwehón:we communities high on the list.
With gatherings still prohibited, Kanesatake organized a series of online activities to celebrate the holidays during COVID-19.
In Kahnawake, an outbreak was declared at the Elders’ Lodge after two employees tested positive. The vaccine campaign was launched on December 23, after a few front-line workers in the community administered their first dose. Directive 54 was introduced by the end of the month, prohibiting all household visits until further notice.
The year kicked off with not only vaccines being administered all over the country, but a curfew enforced all over Quebec. Although, both Kanesatake and Kahnawake decided to allow their community members to move within their territories past curfew hours.
In Kanesatake, preparations for the vaccine roll-out were ongoing, yet no fixed date was set.
Kahnawake started off the year by once again closing all non-essential stores, including tobacco shops, while gyms were asked to reduce their services. Numbers were on the rise in the community. One of the Task Force members, Peacekeeper chief Dwayne Zacharie, tested positive for COVID-19.
COVID-19 variants were starting to make their way into Quebec. Death tolls in the province rose to 10,000 on February 7. In Kanesatake, a community outbreak was declared at the beginning of February. Five positive cases were reported among the same household.
The Riverside Elder’s Home was set to re-open this month but was once again put in lockdown as a preventive measure.
In Kahnawake, the local daycare facility Step by Step Child and Family Centre, was hit with its first positive cases.
Now, a year later, mass vaccination has begun in Quebec. As of March 10, Kanesatake administered 150 vaccines while more than 940 community members have been vaccinated in Kahnawake.