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The small community of Wauzhushk Onigum Nation continues to adapt to the unique limits COVID-19 has forced upon it

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Trevor tends a fire while working his shift as a gatekeeper at Wauzhushk Onigum Nation. Since the gate was established during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been staffed 24 hours a day and there has always been a campfire lit.Photography by Zachary Skead

Zachary Skead is an Ojibwe/Ukrainian photographer from Wauzhushk Onigum Nation in Ontario.

When we first learned that the world was facing a pandemic, our small community of Wauzhushk Onigum Nation – home to fewer than 500 people – met it with uncertainty. Sometimes, for our family, it even felt like a trivial matter. But the reality of it eventually set in after the first lockdown. Our nation, which neighbours Kenora, Ont., went into its first lockdown on March 13, and while community members were still able to leave once a week to shop for groceries and other necessities, the writing was on the wall: times were changing.

It seemed like every day there was something new to be learned about the virus, and we watched in solitude as the world seemed to shut down around us. Our lives were put on hold, and at first, it was frustrating to be forced to stay within your home. We came to realize how much we had taken visiting our loved ones for granted.

With all these sudden changes, my family and I have had to learn how to deal with isolation and constantly be in the presence of each other. We’ve learned to be more respectful of each other’s boundaries, and we’re constantly reminded of the importance of family. The virus has reminded us that our time with each other is short. We may never have time again where we can truly be together without the distraction of modern-day life.

My wife, Sam, my daughters, Rhaya and Clairen, as well as my son, Atticus, have also had to learn how to navigate online learning. It’s not the same experience as a traditional school setting, but we’ve been doing our best to make it work.

My community at large has also had to learn how to adapt to these kinds of challenges. Our Indigenous traditions and culture keep us connected, and so it has been hard to watch as powwows have been cancelled and attendance for our traditional feasts have been limited. Still, we’ve found a way, including by organizing drive-by food pick-up events. And with Halloween’s typical door-to-door interactions posing a threat to public health, the community held an event, “Trunk or Treat,” where people filled up the backs of their cars with candy to hand out to costumed children outside.

All these adaptations prove to me how resilient Indigenous people are. Our history has been full of obstacles to overcome, from residential schools to racist regimes, but still, we’ve found a way to be united. Even a global pandemic cannot keep us from our culture or keep us from moving forward. If anything, it has made us stronger.

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