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‘How will Haida Gwaii adapt?’: Third Haida Nation webinar focuses on local economy

Guests shared medical updates and funding opportunities, ideas about subsistence agriculture
The Council of the Haida Nation hosted a third live webinar on April 16, with moderator Nika Collison and guests Dr. Caroline Walker, Guujaaw, Carla Lutner, and Alanah Mountifield. (Zoom screen grab)

The Council of the Haida Nation (CHN) hosted a third Haida Gwaii Talks Coronavirus webinar on April 16, with Nika Collison moderating discussion about how the economy on Haida Gwaii may adapt to the challenges caused by COVID-19.

The guests who participated in the webinar were Dr. Caroline Walker, chief of staff at the Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital, former CHN president Guujaaw, Carla Lutner, chief operations officer of the Gwaii Trust Society, and Alanah Mountifield, economic development manager for the Misty Isles Economic Development Society.

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After Guujaaw opened with a song, Walker went into her medical update, first reminding residents that the hospital is open to help people.

“I think people have been under the impression that they need to avoid health-care,” Walker said, adding that the virus may be with us for the long-term and people should not push things off.

“We don’t want to be a population that is … not getting their stitches done and not getting their biopsies done.”

She said the hospital has been using Zoom to do virtual care when appropriate, but “if [they] have to see people in person, [they’re] seeing them in person.”

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She also said the lab is open, and procedures such as blood work and X-rays are being done “on an urgent basis.” People who are unsure about whether or not their health issue qualifies as urgent should contact their family doctor.

Walker also touched on testing, which has recently become more widely available. Since same-day tests are now being done in Prince Rupert and Terrace, she said, the turnaround time for testing on Haida Gwaii has also gone down.

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“Currently we have a floatplane that’s been contracted by the health authority and also the pharmacy resupply four days a week,” she said, adding that if they can get a test on the plane on the same day it was done or the next day, “realistically we could be seeing a two- or three-day turnaround.”

People who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, which include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, should call the Northern Health COVID-19 Online Clinic and Information Line at 1-844-645-7811.

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Returning to the theme of the webinar, Collison asked Guujaaw to talk about what it was like living on Haida Gwaii before the introduction of the cash economy.

The hereditary leader of the Skedans Ravens responded with stories about the historical and cultural importance of feasting as a way to earn prestige, then focused on the economy as it relates to the environment as well as food systems.

“The whole economy has come grinding to a halt. It is amazing,” he said.

“This moment in time here gives us a chance to think about how wonderful, how amazing it is that these creeks are there with salmon coming back.

“We have to start thinking about that, thinking about producing more food.”

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Turning her attention to Lutner, Collison asked how the society’s perpetual fund was doing amid the market crash.

Lutner said that while the fund has “dipped down about 7 or 8 per cent” depending on the day, through financial management, such as previously protecting the original amount for inflation, diversifying the fund with a mix of stocks, bonds and real estate investments, and setting aside a buffer, “we’re doing fine.”

As such, she said they have not cancelled any grants other than the Travel Assistance Grant, and encouraged people to apply to their youth and arts grants before the May 1 deadline.

Their board has also approved a new COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, she said, with a preliminary budget of $250,000. As of April 16, they had used the fund to approve 15 grants totalling $172,00, including money for local emergency operations centres, food programs, and a grant for the school district to provide laptops and iPads to students who are learning from home.

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Mountifield closed the discussion portion of the webinar with a reminder that for some businesses on Haida Gwaii, the economic impact of COVID-19 has been devastating, “and their outlook over the next three months is really bleak and dire.”

She said Misty Isles, along with other local economic development organizations, are forming a working group to further support struggling businesses. Participating organizations include the Gwaalagaa Naay Corporation, Community Futures, the Old Massett Village Council, and Haida Owned and Operated, and pending invites have been sent to the CHN and HaiCo.

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