Rallying support for Dene Elders through uncertain times in the N.W.T.

In Sheila Champion’s house, supplies needed to survive the COVID-19 pandemic spill from her living room and into the front hallway.

Champion has spent the last week sorting through toilet paper, non-perishables, and homemade hand sanitizer, which she’d carefully measured into tiny spray bottles.

By March 25, more than 135 care packages have been assembled for Elders in and around Yellowknife.

Having lived through Fort McMurray wildlife of 2016, Champion wants to ensure that no one goes without.


(Shelia Champion founded a social media support group to assist elders. She has made up over 100 bottles of sanitizer for her care packages. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN)

“There’s been overwhelming support. The way the community rallied, it went from being able to help 50 to 70 to 100,” Champion said.

Calling on the strength and physically distanced approved social media, she created YK Keep Calm and support our Elders and Sick.

It has swelled to nearly 500 members and expanded its reach from Yellowknife to nearby communities.

“I am really trying to keep it confined to those at risk. If they run out and they need something without money to get it. Find a way to contact who gave you the bag,” she said.


(Cole Ekendia is one of the last remaining workers at the Rae Edzo Friendship Centre in Behchoko. He’s been providing sandwiches to those in need and delivering care packages to Elders. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN)

As most of the Northwest Territories heeds the government’s warning and stays at home, Cole Ekendia shows up to the Rae Edzo Friendship Centre ready to deliver packages made up by Champion and her team of volunteers.

He’s been providing updates on everything Covid-19 with his work at the community radio station.

“This [the Friendship Centre] is the only place that helps me out and they help other people out too,” Ekendia said.

The streets are quiet, and the community of roughly 1,900 appears dormant.

“Usually it is not like that around here, people are out having fun visiting friends and family. Now people are stuck at home. For how long I have lived here it is the first time it is a ghost town,” he said.

Elders in Bay Island, Behchokǫ̀ are grateful for Ekendia’s delivery as they keep to their homes.

But the supplies only scratch the surface on the snowball effect Covid-19 is having on limited social supports for Elders.


(Rosa Mantla says hygiene during Covid-19 is a time-consuming challenge. She fills up basins of hot water 5-6 times daily as she does not have running water in her home in Behchoko. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN)

Rosa Mantla cares for her husband Eddie, whose medical conditions leaves him immobile and living with chronic pain.

She points to the heavy-duty blister pack sitting on the kitchen table.

“With the virus, I’m scared for him [Eddie] because he is over 74-years-old. On top of that he has bad arthritis,” Mantla said.

She explained the difficulties she’s had having to bathe her spouse once a day without running water.

“I have phoned for emergency water services before Christmas but I don’t know if they [NWT Housing Corporation] will come now,” she said.

Her household has already noticed the lag in health care services since COVID-19.

“Every Friday he [Eddie] is supposed to get a needle. They haven’t come and given him a needed yet. Almost three times now. It is supposed to help ease the pain,” Mantla said.


(Larry Baran says the supply chain will effect small N.W.T. communities tenfold as services and goods that are considered ‘non-essential’ such as building materials are needed for community projects. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN)

Larry Baran, interim senior administrative officer for Behchokǫ̀ noted the temporary precautionary measures as long lasting for many community members.

“The Tlicho are very strong at getting together. That is part of their life. Now we are telling them they have to change and they cannot gather for church or feasts or funerals. We are having to look at different ways to include them or have a feeling of being included while maintaining social distancing,” Baran said.

Baran said the community is slowly adjusting. He has spent the afternoon looking into ways the community government can broadcast a funeral.

The Kǫ̀ Gocho Centre, where Baran works, is typically bustling with youth hanging out after school, and not only are recreational activities up in the air, many capitol projects like a fitness center and a toddler play area have also been placed on hold.

“All of those projects have come to halt because lumber is not considered an essential service. Those materials we would normally ship up from Edmonton aren’t going to be coming now,” he said.


(Peter Martin looks after his elderly mother in Behchoko, NWT. He says he’s happy for care packages during the COVID-19 pandemic as supplies are becoming hard to come by in the community. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN)

Only a few more bags left to deliver. With so much uncertainty, Ekendia said he is just happy to still be employed.

And he knows it will take the kindness of many to get through tough times as a community.

“I just try to think about today. If you live to see another day that is another gift from god. My family always says just pray to make it through another day, we are pretty blessed,” he said.

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