Rosa Mantla is the connection between Tłı̨chǫ residents who don’t speak English and the vaccine against Covid-19.
In the Northwest Territories, which is beginning the biggest vaccination campaign in its history, authorities have stressed the importance of getting reliable information to people in the territory’s 11 official languages.
Mantla, an Elder from Behchokǫ̀, has for years worked to promote and teach the Tłı̨chǫ culture and language.
On Wednesday, she travelled to Wekweètì to deliver information about the vaccine.
“It’s important that people get the right message,” she told Cabin Radio. “The awareness of Covid is changing all the time.
“There are times when we don’t know a lot about what will be happening even the next day. So I said I’ll participate on this trip to help them translate as much as I can.”
Mantla described work on the vaccine rollout as a new challenge after many years promoting and teaching Tłı̨chǫ language and culture for the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency.
She had to understand the vaccine and how it works before she could properly interpret for others.
Some medical terms – such as the word “vaccine” itself – don’t have direct equivalents in Tłı̨chǫ, which can makes interpretation challenging.
“In English, it’s easy to read Moderna and to hear it,” said Mantla, referring to the company that developed the vaccine being used by the NWT. “But if you don’t have a background definition, you just say the word and that’s it.”
Mantla’s daughter, Lianne Mantla-Look, was also in Wekweètì on Wednesday.
A trained nurse and fluent Tłı̨chǫ speaker, Mantla-Look administered vaccines to residents throughout the day and interpreted where needed.
“It’s a pretty incredible opportunity as a Tłı̨chǫ person, as a Tłı̨chǫ nurse, to be a part of this today – especially now that my mom is also on board,” she said.
“My message has been: the vaccine is so important to protect other people, who aren’t eligible.” (At the moment, anyone immunocompromised or aged under 18 can’t get the vaccine.)
Wekweètì Elder Mary Adele Tsatchia talked with Mantla-Look in Tłı̨chǫ before receiving her vaccine on Wednesday.
“It helps a lot when they explain it beforehand, what we’re getting a needle for and that,” Tsatchia said.
“Then we feel much better. We know what we’re getting the needle for.”
Madeline Judas has been the layperson for the health centre in Wekweètì for more than half a century, liaising with nurses in Behchokǫ̀ and coordinating medevacs if needed.
“It’s good to see other people come and speak to the Elders and the youth about this,” Judas said.
Mantla-Look said Judas had expressed pride at seeing a Tłı̨chǫ-speaking nurse helping to deliver the vaccine.
“It’s so touching,” Mantla-Look said. “I’m really grateful to be part of the experience here today.”
Alongside Tłı̨chǫ, English and French, vaccine information is being made available in the territory’s eight other official languages.
Mantla believes that’s a necessary step toward decolonizing healthcare.
“In the old days, many of our people didn’t understand when they were getting treatment,” Mantla said.
“Our people – especially the Elders and the ones who don’t understand or speak English, or can’t read or write – it’s important that they know.
“Otherwise, as an interpreter, if we give the wrong message, there could be damage done.”
Mantla hopes to be a part of the vaccine team in other Tłı̨chǫ communities in the days to come.
“With this virus, I’ve been listening and looking at the news as much as I can,” she said.
“It took the whole world – doctors, professional scientists – to put a vaccine together. We have to put our trust in them, especially for the safety of our people.”