Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya will socially distance himself by heading out on the land from Friday, he said, urging other northern residents to do the same.
The federal government has promised Indigenous peoples will receive a share of federal funding to combat the growing coronavirus pandemic. The Dene Nation wants some of that to help people move onto the land.
“The most responsible thing is to ensure that we get people out on the land,” Yakeleya told Cabin Radio.
“There is a silver lining to this,” he said. “As Indigenous people, we were on the land. Someway through the history, we were encouraged to get off the land and live in communities.
“Now we’re asking the federal government: you brought us off the land, now we want you to help us get back on the land.”
Yakeleya said federal funding could be used to support education initiatives and even provide gas and groceries for those families looking to move onto the land as a form of pre-emptive self-isolation measure.
“With the closing of the schools, what an opportunity for families and their children to learn to live on the land,” he said. “To learn what type of wood to cut for fire, what type of snow to gather for water, learn about areas to fish, to hunt, where the beavers and muskrats are.
“This is a golden opportunity to sit and talk to your children without having your TV, Facebook, and texting. Come together as a family and actually listen to each other.”
Yakeleya said he will head south toward Fort Providence with his family on Friday. He plans to live on the land in the area until further notice.
Meanwhile, the Dene Nation expressed serious concerns about eight NWT communities where, according to Yakeleya, there are no full-time nurses currently stationed.
“We want to look at what plans exist in those communities that are isolated and don’t have a full-time nurse,” he said.
“How do we support those eight communities? We will be making a request [to Ottawa] to support our communities in the North, especially getting proper healthcare services and resources.”
The Dene Nation had a call with the federal Indigenous services minister, Marc Miller, on Monday, Yakeleya said, and expected more calls this week.
Yakeleya also acknowledged that while he hoped many people would take the opportunity to live off the land for a time, not all situations would allow that.
Discussing elderly or immunocompromised community members, he said: “We’ve got to watch that.
“We know they’re going to need help and we’ve got to have some special provisions in there.”