It’s time to say meegwetch (thanks) for public health

Alex Kataquapit

Photo: Elder Alex Kataquapit passed away from complications from the COVID-19 virus at age 89.

By Xavier Kataquapit

COVID-19 is still a very prominent part of our lives. As much as we would like to think that this pandemic is coming to an end, it is still a very dangerous period for many people.

This past month, I lost my uncle Elder Alex Kataquapit through complications from the COVID-19 virus. At 89 years of age, he was doing well for his age until he contracted the virus which completely weakened him and sent him to hospital. Older people, and those with compromised health issues, are most at risk from COVID-19, but many younger people are also having problems with what is known as long COVID.

Uncle Alex was a great man and he was part of an old generation of Elders that were the last to be born and raised on the land and to live our people’s traditional way of life. He spent his entire life on the banks of the Attawapiskat River where his parents James and Janie Kataquapit’s family were situated.

Alex and his wife Elder Susan Kataquapit raised a strong and prominent family in the community. They raised their children Margaret, Helen, Maurice, David, James, Evelyn, Bertha, Roseline and twins John and Janie. My cousins were older than me and I always saw them as siblings that watched out for all of us as we grew up. There was no greater excitement than to run around with my younger cousins on what we saw as the ‘Kataquapit homestead’. Our grandfather had originally settled in a home on a street in the middle of the village decades ago and, from there, his son Leo built a home nearby, then his son Gabriel, his son George and finally Alex. They all had big families. Further down the way my father Marius and their brother Thomas also raised their families.

Uncle Alex and Aunt Susan’s home was a central place for our entire family and it always seemed like we ended up in their yard. It was a safe, exciting and fun place for all the children to mix and play games.

It was sad news to hear that Uncle Alex had contracted the latest variant of this terrible virus. My father often remarked that among their brothers, Alex was the strongest. It was no wonder that Alex had outlived his younger siblings, including my father Marius and their brothers Gabriel and David, as well as their older brothers George, Thomas and Leo. Thankfully we still have my Aunt Celine Nakogee, who is the last of Alex’s siblings.

This pandemic also hit home for myself and my partner Mike recently. He has a lung condition and recently we both picked up a virus, which was likely COVID-19. He had trouble breathing and in a panic we headed to the emergency department late at night in Kirkland Lake. As soon as we arrived, the capable and kind staff made both of us feel safe and comforted.

We spent the night in Emergency and in the morning we met with Dr. McPherson. He was quick, thorough and very kind. He convinced Mike that it would be a good idea to stay in the hospital for a few days so that he could be stabilized and treated.

We could not believe how supportive, kind and caring all staff members were during those days in the Kirkland and District Hospital (Blanche River Health). We learned that many hospital front line workers were not compensated during the pandemic and they are still not, although another wave of COVID is here.

All those lab specialists, cleaners, X-ray technicians, respirologists and other support staff have to deal with COVID patients during this pandemic and the government has not compensated them. We should be aware of this and hope these people get the support they deserve.

Some of the people I give thanks to that I met during Mike’s stay include: nurses Fiona, Michelle, Laura, Brianna, Lisa, Affie, Junior, Rachel, Patty, Andrea, Jacob and, of course, Dr. McPherson and Dr. Dozois.

People like these health care workers are what make our public health care system great. We are hearing more about privatization of our public health care system and we need to push back on that strongly.

In our social democracy in Canada, we need to fully fund public health care and public education. We need to do our part for all our hospitals and health care teams and donate to any of the necessities they need. Our nurses and doctors are the ones that help people in crisis, like my partner and I, or families like my Uncle Alex and his children. In the face of privatization of our health care system, we need to do our part to help those who help us the most.