As Manitoba heads into phase two of reopening, one First Nations community is going ahead with its pow wow later this month.
The pandemic has forced communities to shut down many large scale gatherings but Lake Manitoba First Nation Chief Cornell McLean said the decision to go ahead with it’s pow wow comes after reviewing the province’s track record.
“The curve [is] being flattened,” McLean told APTN News by phone.
There hasn’t been a case of the virus on any First Nation in Manitoba.
The province currently has 10 active cases, and in the past week only three new cases have been identified. There’s been a total of 295 positive and probable cases in the province as of June 1. Seven people have died from the virus.
With those low numbers, McLean said the community wants to keep the tradition going.
“It’s our culture,” he said. “Also, we need some healing in our community. It’s unfortunate that our young people are turning to alcohol and drugs.”
Months of isolation has had a negative impact on members.
The community has been on lockdown since early April and they have implemented a curfew from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily.
McLean said local RCMP officer have been called to the community multiple times since the lockdown for various offences.
He believes now is the time to rely on ceremonies.
Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) agrees. He told APTN News ceremonies like pow wows can provide holistic healing.
SCO represents 34 communities in the province including Lake Manitoba First Nation.
Daniels said the organization respects each First Nations’ decision to proceed with ceremonies or not. He trusts the community with take proper safety measures.
“They’re going to be taking precautions and I think that’s what people need to understand,” said Daniels. “It’s not like we’re just having a bunch of people come together. It’s not business as usual. It’s going to be a different kind of pow wow.”
In a Facebook livestream on May 30, Dr. Marcia Anderson, with Ongomiizwin-Health Services at the University of Manitoba, said communities opting to host public gatherings need to keep the sizes limited.
“Even though the risk is low it’s not gone so we need to continue to follow as much as we can public health guidance so that we can have the benefits of gatherings…but doing it in a way that is as safe as possible,” she said.
Dr. Veronica McKinney, with Northern Medical Services in Saskatchewan, told APTN it’s up to each individual community to determine what’s best for it’s members. She advises leadership to reach out to Indigenous physicians or federal medical health officers to gain guidance on the best way to proceed with ceremonies.
“Some people really believe if they follow along with what the medical recommendations are that they’re disputing or disregarding our traditional ways and that we don’t have faith in that and others feel it’s good to make use of all the information and make a hybrid,” she said.
McLean said the community will adhere to the province’s 50-person limit for outdoor gatherings and they will have sanitizing stations along with security monitoring the crowd. They are also looking at setting up a way to livestream it online.
McLean has reached out to RCMP to advise them the event was taking place after officers showed up at a Sundance ceremony in Saskatchewan last month.