This Cree family spent over 4 months on the land to avoid COVID-19 – and vows to stay as long as it takes

“We felt that it would be safer to just completely isolate away from the virus”

Most people stayed in their homes to escape the COVID-19 pandemic – but not Louie-Rene Kanatewat.

The Cree man and his family have been isolating on the land for nearly five months and counting.

On Thursday, they reached day 132.

Back in March, when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the Kanatewat family came to the James Bay coast. They’re from Chisasibi, a Cree community in northern Quebec.

That’s when they decided to travel to their camp to isolate to keep their five kids safe from the contagious virus.

“He has a lot of respiratory problems whenever he gets sick. So usually he’s prone to getting pneumonia and those type of things,” Kanatewat said, talking about his second-youngest, Samuel.

He was born with Trisomy 18, a rare genetic disorder, which makes him particularly at risk from the effects of COVID-19.

The family enjoys a feast at their camp, located in the region called Anayaskwayach in Cree, where they’ve spent the pandemic thus far. Photo courtesy: Louie-Rene Kanatewat

“With COVID-19 we hear it causes a lot of problems when it comes to respiratory systems, so for us we felt that if Samuel were to get this virus, it would be very, very detrimental to him,” said Kanatewat.

“It would be a struggle for him to get through it, so for us we felt that it would be safer to just completely isolate away from the virus.”

The camp is not accessible by road and is approximately 67 kilometres from Chisasibi.

Originally the family was to go for the spring goose hunt and then return when school restarted.

But that never happened. Preparing for a long term stay, they had their canoe brought in.

Grandpa Louie Kanatewat has been re-supplying them by boat since then. But for the most part they have been harvesting off the land.

Geese roast over the fire at the Kanatewat camp. Photo courtesy: Louie-Rene Kanatewat

Mother Marlene Shecapio says the family is glad to have the time together.

“I think we prefer staying here because we’re closer as a family here. Instead of Chisasibi where people are in their rooms, people are in different areas of the house. Here it’s just one cabin and that’s it. We get to enjoy each other more, I find.”

Amber is the family’s oldest child, she says she likes the fishing and boat rides.

But her favorite part about being at camp?

“Ummm, sleeping.”

And the first thing she is going to do whenever they do get back to the community?

“Mmmm, eat pizza!”

Kanatewat says living on the land for so long has been a fabulous experience. It’s something they have always wanted to do.

And they plan to live off the land for as long as it takes.

Reporter / Ottawa

Originally from the Cree Nation of Chisasibi on the eastern coast of James Bay, Quebec, Jamie has lived in Ottawa since 2015. Trained in journalism at Carleton University, he has worked as a freelance print journalist and as a writer/researcher for the Cree unit of CBC North out of Montreal. Jamie was hired as the reporter/correspondent for the Ottawa bureau in October 2019.