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James Smith Cree Nation woman keeps community busy as Sask. reserve sees 1st COVID-19 case

Cierra Twist is creating lighthearted challenges to keep her community members inside their homes and occupied. She has organized competitive scavenger hunts and goofy games for members of James Smith, Peter Chapman and Chakastaypasin First Nations, both on- and off-reserve. 

“There have been comments about how I need to keep doing this because I bring laughter into the household,” said Twist, a member of the James Smith Cree Nation and a youth co-ordinator. 

Examples include a battle for the best airband, a “no-hands” challenge in which a blindfolded partner feeds the other noodles and scavenger hunts for items in the home, where the fastest submitter wins. 

Twist uses a Facebook group to organize the tasks and to receive submissions. Winners get a cash prize, donated from the James Smith Health Clinic and community members. The challenges are judged by reactions to the online videos or by local “judges.”

Twist is hopeful this motivates people to stay home. 

Twist said she struggled with physical distancing before she started focusing on creating these challenges. 

“I’m always so used to being on the go and I was driving myself crazy because I had to stay home,” she said.

As a mother of three, Twist understands the importance of distancing. 

“I have twins who have asthma so I can imagine this would be hard on their little bodies,” she said. “It’s scary that this thing is going around and you wouldn’t know you have it.” 

Chief urges distancing as 1st case hits community 

On Sunday, James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns issued a notice confirming that a member had contracted COVID-19 and was isolating at home. 

“We’re taking all precautions in a safe manner dealing with the first case,” Burns said Monday.

He said a local pandemic response team is working with health officials to “identify the hotspots” and trace the steps of the 40-something-year-old man who tested positive. 

Burns said the man had previously been in Saskatoon and Prince Albert. He was confirmed positive on Sunday, but Burns said the man self-isolated after he began feeling sick on March 27, the same day the community declared a state of emergency. 

“This virus is not a joke, anyone can get it and you don’t know where you’ll get it,” said the community member who tested positive in a video posted to Facebook. “Please stay at home.”

Burns encouraged people not to panic even if their situation seems scary or overwhelming, as the pandemic response team is preparing for a scenario where COVID-19 does spread locally. 

“We have a healing lodge in our community and we’re going to be utilizing that for the isolation,” he said. 

Burns has urged community members to follow the public health guidelines of distancing and hand-washing. He wants his members to know that they will eventually overcome COVID-19. 

“You’ve just gotta be patient and make sure we’re looking after one another.”

NDP calls on province to support First Nations 

Last week, Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili said a pandemic “doesn’t respect jurisdictional boundaries” and called on the province to offer “more support and protection” for First Nations and Mé​​tis people in the province. 

“We know these communities are at higher risk, with crowded housing, elevated levels of poverty and higher rates of illness,” Meili said Friday. 

The NDP called on the province to increase testing in the north and on reserves, ensure health care workers have personal protective equipment and increase communication with First Nations and Métis leaders. The party also raised concerns about food security in remote communities, noting a lack of resources means people have to travel frequently for necessities. 

Premier Scott Moe said last week he has had “a number of conversations” with First Nations Chiefs throughout Saskatchewan about “safeguarding those communities and how we can work mutually to ensure that we are doing everything we can to prevent COVID-19 from entering.” 

Moe said he expected more conversations to come in the days ahead.

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