Pandemic wellness series brings community together virtually

It seems a lifetime ago when the community got together for events, mingling, chatting, eating, laughing, and yes, sometimes arguing, but always finding new and old and friends to connect with.

The entire social fabric of the world has changed as the globe continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic and all of its implications, physically, financially, spiritually and mentally.

Business meetings, court appearances, health appointments, family get-togethers – things we all took for granted as a normal part of daily life – are now frequently conducted via technology, and the lack of physical connection is even more pronounced in a close-knit community like Six Nations.

But on Family Day, there was a small sense of normalcy and connection again, after the first in a series of seven community wellness Zoom sessions brought out a feeling of connection among residents not seen in a long time.

Organized by Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council and hosted by noted Cree speaker and entertainer Stan Wesley, Monday’s session was a virtual reminder of how important social connections are, as community members played trivia games and chatted during the live session streamed on elected council’s Facebook page.

It was a way to bring the community together during pandemic times, said SNGR Communications Officer Candace Lickers.

Wesley began with an opening acknowledging “manitou” – the term for “spirit” among Anishinaabe peoples.

“In a time like this when we can’t see each other, we’re hopeful of the spirit that surrounds us, but we’re all here,” said Wesley. “The spirit is here. Today will be our version of ceremony, thanks to manitou, thanks to spirit, thanks to all of your spirits coming together in this virtual forum.”

And although Monday was celebrated as Family Day across much of the country, Wesley said it seemed like every day has been Family Day since the world shut down last March in response to the emerging pandemic.

It’s been an unprecedented year, he acknowledged, but noted that Indigenous people have surviced pandemics before and they will survive Covid-19, passing the strength gained from the experience on to the next generations, as their ancestors did before them.

“Don’t forget: our ancestors dealt with situations of sickness and illness and pandemics before. They’ve survived. They’ve told stories how they survived. And what are we doing now? We’re surviving this pandemic and like our ancestors, we’re going to come out of this telling some amazing stories. When our ancestors told stories about their hardships, we felt strong. That strength is in our DNA”

When stories of the pandemic are told to the next generation, they’ll feel just as strong as we did when we heard those stories, said Wesley.

“We’re looking forward to the day this thing is over. We have so much to look forward to.”

Close to 30 people enjoyed the virtual gameshow Wesley hosted, asking questions such as “what is your favourite powwow food (the most popular answer was Indian Tacos)” and “what would be the movie title you would choose” to describe how they’ve dealt with the pandemic.

One of the clever answers was, “50 Shades of Stay (At Home),” an example of the humour that Six Nations people are known for employing during difficult times.

Wesley, who is not from Six Nations but moved to the community a year ago, chuckled at some of the answers when he asked for the popular slang terms used in the community, such as “bwoot,” “heck innit,” “skoden,” and “stoodis.”

“You have sayings in this community that no other community in the world has,” he said.

Judging by the answer’s to Wesley’s question asking what people have learned throughout the pandemic it’s that they’re going to be grateful for social interaction once more when it’s safe for people to mingle together again. Community members said they missed sports events, hugs, travelling, live music and just being social with each other.

“We have to acknowledge that not everybody is doing well. Some people are struggling out there. This is hard. I get it. Some people – their safe place isn’t at home. And their safe person – they don’t get to see that person. I acknowledge you. We all have good days and bad days.”

Others said they’ve learned they can live without going to the casino, that they enjoy their own company, they’re learned to slow down and they’re enjoying time with their families.

In closing the trivia session, Wesley asked community members to provide personalized words of support for Six Nations’ frontline workers.

“We’re just so thankful for their dedication and love to the community,” said Wesley.

Mohawk knowledge keeper Tom Porter will host the next community wellness series streamed live on SNGR’s Facebook page.

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