Longhouse ceremonial gathering blamed for coronavirus outbreak as Six Nations announces second COVID-19 death

OHSWEKEN — Ohsweken Public Health is urging all people who attended midwinter ceremonies on Six Nations longhouses from January 15 through to January 26 to get tested, as contact tracing has identified positive cases that were in attendance at the gathering.

Midwinter ceremonies are one of the oldest Haudenosaunee ceremonies and the biggest yearly gatherings of the Handsome Lake longhouse faith, often drawing travellers to the community from Haudenosaunee reserves across Canada and the United States.

Throughout the pandemic, community leaders have hesitated to prohibit public gatherings for ceremonial purposes — the Six Nations Emergency Control Group issuing a statement at the beginning of community lockdowns in 2020 saying they would not restrict people from gathering for ceremony.

Now, Six Nations Health, already working at full capacity, are furiously working to contact trace a mind-blowing 11-day exposure for an undisclosed amount of people, some of those potentially from communities across Ontario and New York State.

Director of Health Services Lori Davis Hill urged those who may be experiencing even mild symptoms to begin self-isolating and get tested.

“This COVID-19 pandemic is very mentally draining on everyone, testing is not about shaming members but more so about reducing further spread into the community and we are pleading with members to come forward to be tested,” said Davis Hill.

Meanwhile, Six Nations also confirmed its second COVID-19 related death.

“Heartfelt condolences, thoughts, and prayers are sent to the families at this time as they mourn the loss of their loved one,” said SNGR in a statement. “Please know we acknowledge the community’s fatigue from COVID-19, but we must remain diligent in our response for our Elders and most vulnerable. We must continue to consider their health whenever deciding to leave the safety of our homes.”

Six Nations is now reporting 10 active COVID-19 cases. However, in the last 7 days, 114 people have been tested and a total of 26 people have contacted public health reporting symptoms.

“The Elected Council are sending their thoughts, prayers, and good medicine to those families affected by the recent loss related to COVID-19 and to those members currently battling COVID-19,” said SNGR’s statement.

Members wanting to book a test online can do so at www.sixnationscovid19.ca or if members cannot access the online booking tool may call at 1-855-977-7737 or 226-446-9909.

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