An investigation into allegations that out-of-territory attendees at a Fort Simpson funeral did not self-isolate continues.
Community matriarch Mary Louise Norwegian was remembered at a ceremony on July 30. Keyna Norwegian, daughter of Mary Louise, said of her mother’s 45 direct descendants, only 10 were able to attend the funeral.
Norwegian told Cabin Radio only one of those, her sister, came to Fort Simpson from outside the territory. The sister had travelled from her home in Matachewan, Ontario, Norwegian said.
“I’m sure everybody would have loved to be there … to lay your mother, grandmother and great grandmother to rest,” she said. “And they were not able to make it. One of my sisters did come and yes, it was without isolating, and she showed up at a funeral.”
Norwegian said reports that visitors from Alberta attended her mother’s funeral were incorrect and her sister, from the community of approximately 400 in east-central Ontario, was the only visitor from outside the NWT.
She added a disagreement between the two families surrounding her mother’s funeral ignited bad feeling. She believes that may have caused the report of multiple out-of-territory visitors.
“There was a lot of miscommunication or some anger between a certain family and our [family],” she said. “Knowing our mother, she wouldn’t want to be put on display for two days. She’s always felt uncomfortable having to be put in front of people. She just did what she had to do throughout her life, without trying to put the spotlight on herself.”
Simple service for mother
Knowing what their mother would have wanted, Norwegian and her siblings agreed on a simple ceremony instead of following the practice of displaying the body for two days as is customary.
“My family, my brothers and sisters wanted a very quiet, simple funeral service for her,” she said. “We wanted a wake that night from five to nine at the church.
“Because we knew that there was going to be more than 25 people we requested that the service take place at the papal site, so it took place on Saturday at the papal site.”
There are special exceptions regarding traditional burial rights for treaty members in the territory. Norwegian said she encouraged her family members to apply for exemptions.
“[My brothers and sisters] were all planning to come,” she said. “Some that bought tickets and everything, and when they were denied by public health, they all turned around and did not come. And I encouraged them to use our traditional rights as First Nations people for how we lay our loved one to rest, so that we’re all there together. And that was not given to our family.”
The Office of the Chief Public Health Officer earlier confirmed it is investigating the incident to find out exactly what happened.
“We did not authorize anyone to attend any event without self-isolating or taking other precautions, as a report which was filed with us suggests may have occurred,” said Mike Westwick, a spokesperson for the NWT’s Covid-19 response team. “We would not provide such authorization – it is explicitly against our public health orders.”
When Cabin Radio asked the government if it could confirm the number of visitors claimed to have attended the funeral, Westwick said there had been no tickets issued since Protect NWT’s previous update on August 12 and the department couldn’t comment on an ongoing investigation.
Norwegian feels that now two weeks have passed and there have been no cases of Covid-19, community members who spoke out against the family in the funeral’s aftermath should apologize.