Dene National Chief urges communities to embrace vaccine ‘shield’

Last modified: May 7, 2021 at 7:50pm

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya called on members of Dene communities to get vaccinated as soon as possible at a news conference on Friday.

Yakeleya told reporters: “We need to have a shield against Covid-19. It’s here right now, and we need to push back. The only way I know to push back on Covid-19 is through the vaccine.”

Nearly 60 percent of NWT residents are fully vaccinated but some smaller communities are behind on vaccine uptake. In the Sahtu and Tłı̨chǫ regions, full vaccination among adults stood at 47 percent and 37 percent of residents respectively earlier this week.


That compares to more than 60 percent of residents in Fort Smith, Yellowknife, and Hay River.

Behchokǫ̀ Chief Clifford Daniels has publicly expressed concern about low vaccination rates in the Tłı̨chǫ region.

Behchokǫ̀ is planning a second pop-up vaccine clinic at its recreation centre on Monday. The first pop-up clinic in the community ran out of doses by mid-afternoon on Thursday.

Yakeleya encouraged people to take advantage of pop-up clinics. He said the Dene Nation is pushing the federal and territorial governments for support but, ultimately, the decision to get vaccinated belongs to people in the community.

“Maybe it’s fear from the 1928 flu epidemic, the trusting of the government … It’s a whole combination of issues,” he said. “Maybe it’s a lack of understanding of Covid-19 and that it’s a powerful, powerful sickness. People need to come to grips with the reality.”


The Dene Nation is working with the territorial government to translate knowledge about Covid-19. It held community translation workshops in December and has advocated for traditional food in isolation centres, Yakeleya said.

Yakeleya hopes to reach 80-percent coverage among Dene before commemoration of the 100-year anniversary of the signing of Treaty 11 takes place in late August.

“It means a feast, drum dancing, hand games,” said Yakeleya. “The only way we can safely do it is through the vaccine.

“If we can do at least 80 percent or more … then we could actually come together and be as one people again.”