When many residents in Colville Lake were isolating in April 2020, and the solitude and stress were beginning to take their toll, Isabel Orlias had an idea. They needed something that would bring them together while staying apart.
Orlias said: “I have three little kids, and I know how hard it is to keep them occupied. A big percentage of the community is on social media, so I had the idea of doing online contests.”
Orlias, who is on maternity leave but usually works as the recreation coordinator for the Behdzi Ahda First Nation, created a Facebook group. Before long, the K’áhbamį́túé Social Distancing Games were born.
It started with a TikTok challenge, where videos with the most likes won $20, $40 and $60. When that got a decent response, Orlias posted contests for jigging, goose calling, moose calling, rapping, lip syncing, dancing, no-hands make-up application and the funniest joke. She also applied for funding with the leaders of the Behdzi Ahda First Nation in order to offer bigger and better prizes.
The community of Colville Lake is no stranger to competition – just try visiting during Spring Carnival, when caribou skinning, target shooting and wood cutting contests become extreme tests of speed and skill.
When January 2022 brought a new wave of Omicron cases, Orlias brought the K’áhbamį́túé Social Distancing Games back twice, with one round in January and another in early February. Challenges included jigging, Valentine’s window decorating, best snowman, best family photo contest, best picture on the land, and a traditional clothing contest.
Initial response to the return of the games was quiet but, as the number of Covid-19 cases in the community continued to rise, so did interest in the initiative.
“There weren’t many entries at first, but by the time I put together the next contest, everyone was isolating,” Orlias said.
Sheena Snow, a relief primary community careworker, was working at the health centre in Colville Lake during the worst of the outbreak in late January.
“All my co-workers were out sick with Covid,” she said. “I was handling everything: testing, informing people of their results and explaining next steps, answering the phones. And I was getting frustrated because I could still see people out who weren’t supposed to be.”
Snow had a lightbulb moment about how to encourage people to follow isolation rules after talking with a family who had close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19.
“They were isolating and doing everything they were supposed to, but finding it really hard,” Snow said. “She told me, ‘I wish there was a little reward at the end for families who actually listened [to the rules.]’ And that’s when I started thinking, ‘Yeah! There should be.’”
She got in touch with Orlias and the two planned an additional prize draw for everyone who successfully completed their isolation.
“This outbreak and the isolation was hard for everyone. They got mixed messages from the beginning about what was allowed and not allowed,” Snow said. “But I do think the prizes really helped. There were still people trying to go out before, but afterwards, you could tell the difference, because there was no traffic on the roads. It was quiet. People were really trying.”
This past Tuesday, Orlias and her daughter went live online to announce the winners.
For Snow, seeing the support from the community meant a lot.
“Whatever one person does, it doesn’t affect that person alone, it affects all of us. If you see someone socializing, it makes everyone want to do the same. People need to come together to beat this,” she said.
“It’s all about caring for our children and our Elders who are so vulnerable to Covid. I’m very thankful to all the families who are staying at home and showing they care and respect the safety of others.”
Snow said isolating is especially challenging in Colville Lake, where homes are small and often crowded, and social gatherings are important in the close-knit community. She said, however, efforts made in the past few weeks to follow the rules have had a real impact on the community’s Covid-19 case count.
“It’s looking hopeful. We haven’t had any people coming in sick,” Snow said.
“We’re going to wait another week and see how things are, because there are some people still in isolation and some still not following the rules, but we’re really hopeful. We could have this Covid beat, but we’ll have to wait and see.”