By Xavier Kataquapit
My people have a long history of dealing with new, dangerous and deadly diseases that we had no protection against. During the First World War, I lost my great-grandfather to the 1918 influenza pandemic when he left his homeland on James Bay to volunteer for the war overseas. He never returned and he now lies in a burial plot just outside the city of London.
In the decades that followed, wave after wave of influenza, smallpox, measles, polio and, most commonly, tuberculosis claimed many people on the James Bay coast because there was little to no immunity to these new diseases.
My parents often reminded us of how they lived through epidemics of these diseases in the 1940s and 1950s. Older members of my family know these stories and they understand how new infectious diseases can quickly affect our small remote communities.
History is repeating now with new waves of the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to spread everywhere. We know for sure that we are in a new wave with new variants, which are more infectious. Health experts are warning that these new variants are more contagious and better at escaping our antibodies, which means this is causing breakthrough and repeat infections.
I am hearing about many people I know and I am acquainted with catching the new variant and some are very sick with it. Thankfully, for those with vaccinations, things are not so bad when they pick up this virus and those with boosters seem to do even better. There may be fewer hospitalizations, intensive care unit cases and deaths but still, who wants to get sick at all in the middle of our precious summer here in Canada?
The other cause for concern when you get infected is in how it can severely or even permanently affect your health. I’ve been cautioned by doctors and medical professionals in the past about how even just a simple viral infection can set off a chain of events inside your body that can cause irreparable damage. Our natural immune system is a complex system of protections inside our body that works most of the time but sometimes can go off balance for many different reasons. The research into what COVID-19 does to our bodies is still ongoing and there is still debate as to what it does to us in the short term let alone the long term.
One of the easiest things to do to prevent yourself and others from getting sick is to simply be careful, wear a mask when you are in a grocery store, restaurant or other retail place with lots of people and stay away from anyone with obvious symptoms. This virus is not finished with us and although many of us are fed up with it, common sense indicates that wearing a mask at times is a good idea. In particular if you choose to wear a mask you could be protecting Elders, grandmothers, grandfathers and those with comprised health.
We can’t smoke anymore in public places and we have to wear seatbelts in vehicles because they are proven to save lives. People pushed back on these restrictions but in time, with some education, things changed for the better. Wearing a mask as often as possible can saves lives and hopefully COVID-19 will wind down with the combination of vaccines and natural immunity. It is mostly the elderly over 60 years of age that are dying with COVID-19, but thousands of others who are younger are also getting very sick, suffering from long COVID, and some even dying. For the next few months as we make our way through this current wave we really should be thinking twice and doing our best to protect the more vulnerable in our population from this virus.
I know that many people up the James Bay coast are travelling this summer. They are so happy to be out and about, and I am happy for them. There are all kinds of amazing powwows, gatherings, music and community events happening this summer and I encourage people to take care, wear a mask when indoors at these events and get booster vaccines.
I am concerned about hearing many of my Indigenous family and friends contracting this new variant. Some have milder symptoms while others are very sick. Due to the nature of how closely everyone lives together in remote northern First Nations there is always the danger that new variants of COVID-19 can be easily spread in their communities.
Remember this is not just about you. When you are out and about remember our Elders, the grandmothers and grandfathers and those who are not very healthy. Do your part to protect them.