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A First Nations Chief in Manitoba says they will go ahead with their annual powwow next month despite the province's public health orders to limit the size of public gatherings amid the pandemic, according to Global News.
“It is our culture,” said Cornell McLean of the Lake Manitoba First Nation.
During the powwow season thousands of people will travel from different provinces and territories to join together however this year most have already been cancelled in order to cooperate with physical distancing measures.
McLean said there have been no cases of COVID-19 in his region, which is located about 160 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Lake Manitoba was among the first reserves in Manitoba to implement a lockdown on travel in and out of the community.
However this measure has been hard on many of the residents, said McLean, calling it a major stress caused by the isolation from other family and the financial strains that have come with the pandemic. McLean said some of the residents have turned to alcohol or drugs to cope.
That is the reason the McLean wants to go through with the powwow, saying that it will bring the community a sense of healing.
“It’s important because we are trying to start that healing process for our members.” said McLean.
As of Wednesday, Manitoba has had 292 cases of COVID-19 however the number of new infections has remained stagnant over the past several weeks. Wednesday was the fifth consecutive day without a new infections and the number of active cases sits at 14.
McLean's decision to host the powwow came as he watched the provincial regulations begin to lift and next month the number of people who can attend a public gathering will be raised to 50, in time for the powwow.
“We will make sure that social distancing is being followed,” said McLean who is also asking that should anyone be feeling unwell, that they stay home for the event which will be from June 19-21. “We won’t have people standing arm in arm, that’s for sure, but we will find a way to make it work for our community.”
McLean did not indicate how many people are expected to take part in the powwow. Outside of community members, people from four nearby First Nations are likely to come, he said.
McLean didn't give an exact number of how many people will be there however he did say that First Nations nearby are expected to join as well. McLean doesn't expect less than 100 people however, so they will be keeping a close eye on what the provincial regulations look like when the time comes.
The federal government promised that Indigenous ceremonies were not to be disrupted during the pandemic, stated McLean.
“Canada must not and will not prohibit these important practices,” said Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller at the beginning of May after Saskatchewan RCMP were called out to a sun-dance ceremony.
Indigenous Services spokesperson Martine Stevens confirmed in an email that any cancellation or postponement of cultural practices and ceremonies would remain entirely up to First Nations community leadership.
“Everyone is super sensitive to the reality of what we are dealing with in the time of this pandemic,” said Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, adding that its still important to maintain their traditions during the pandemic. “We aren’t going to be able to isolate ourselves forever, so how do we start living with this thing?”