By Victoria Gray
The Delaware Nation at Moraviantown has fared pretty well through the COVID-19 pandemic and Chief Denise Stonefish believes some of that fortune came from a piece of advice her mother imparted many times.
“My mother always says, ‘don’t stress over things you can’t change. It’s probably one of the reasons I took COVID-19 so well,” she said.
Stonefish is in the first year of her third term as chief of the community and she served as the deputy chief and in other capacities at the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, while also serving as a councillor since 1998.
She said the knowledge she gained advocating for her home nations and with the AIAI gave her the know how to kick COVID-19 safety measures into gear quickly and efficiently.
Although there are health services on the territory, she knew they would need more help and didn’t hesitate to call the Chatham-Kent Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Colby, who helped get the community vaccines as quickly as possible.
“We were very fortunate to get them as early as we did,” she said.
She says upwards of 90 per cent of community members are fully vaccinated and she’s proud of their efforts.
“We had a few that are like some other people out there, who said ‘no, I don’t think I need to take the vaccine,’ but some of them have changed their mind. After that they came in and got their shots because you don’t know if you’re the one that’s carrying it. You may not be sick, but you’re the one carrying it,” she said.
She said one of the ways they she kept in contact with the community was to continue getting out there. She, and other members of council delivered hot meals to the community once a week through the pandemic to help people and to raise spirits.
She also took to the radio and provided updates once a week, they mailed out a newsletter from chief and council bi-weekly and continued running services at the administration office. Although most of her staff were working from home, she continued to work in the office and focus on trying to keep everyone safe and keep things running smoothly.
“I mostly just focused on work,” she said.
Stonefish and her council made sure to close the borders of the community just shortly after the pandemic began and although that didn’t make business owners happy, she said it was nice for families.
“We were quick to close our boarders and not letting anybody in, that could have been contributing factor too. The community liked that our boarders were closed. Kids could walk up and down road, ride their bikes. They didn’t have to worry about cars flying by,” she said.
The community waited about a month after Ontario changed it’s restrictions ever time to ensure there wasn’t a spike in the communities surrounding them.
It helped ensure no community members died and only about 15 community members contracted the virus. A member of the nation, who was living in the United States did die from the virus.
Despite not losing community members to COVID-19, they did lose 14 people from various other conditions over the course of the pandemic and those losses have been very difficult for the community.
“I guess that’s what I mean, we’ve had our share of ups and downs,” she said. “That would be the hardest part for us, when we lose that many people in that short of time and we haven’t had the ability morn our losses in the way we were accustomed to.”
She said people have rallied together and have followed the rules very well. Stonefish and council passed a law that those who were caught breaking COVID-19 safety protocols would face consequences and fines.
“And you know, every time we had an opportunity we would inform the community of that and remind them of that, but at the same time we reminded them to do what we need to, in terms of hand washing, social distancing and all of that stuff. So, as a result of that, I believe a portion of the community probably realized how serious this virus is,” she said.
Stonefish said she didn’t really pick up any new skills because she spent her life on ball fields, in hockey arenas and on golf courses. She did get some golf in, but she didn’t jump on the gardening bandwagon.
“I had my share of gardening growing up as a teenager,” she said.
She also wants to give kudos to the businesses, who closed up shop and did everything they could to keep people safe as well.
“They grumbled, of course, but they did it,” she said.
She doesn’t mind the changes that have taken place, although the misses the connections, she thinks she may stick to Zoom for a lot of meetings.
“I’m not sure if I ever want to go to Toronto again for a big First Nations meeting, I might be just quite content to just Zoom in, but it takes away from that physical contact with other leaders and to be able to sit down and have a coffee, and share best practices,” she said.
Stonefish believes some of the practices people have picked up during the pandemic may never go away, hand sanitizer may remain a staple in some people’s health arsenal and this may not be the last pandemic. This pandemic has reinvigorated her wish to ensure everyone’s health and safety. In the long run she believes it’s about protecting the young, the elders – the Knowledge Keepers.
“The main concentration was the elders, the Knowledge Keepers and making sure that our young people still had access to those Knowledge Keepers. It’s about protecting the nation or nations. Small pox didn’t get us, not all of us, so lets make sure other pandemics don’t get us either,” she said.