Reasons for hope during COVID-19 in Indigenous communities

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Tom Jackson in a Red Cross vest smiling at people.Tom Jackson loves you.
You might think that’s funny or that he’s just being smart but he’s not. It’s his promise to you. And for Jackson, who has been part of the Canadian consciousness through his work in television, film, and music for decades, love is what we need right now.
“Love is a verb, not a word. If we treat it like a verb, others will learn from it,” Jackson said. “We have to demonstrate the commitment to deliver the verb. It’s an action, not an emotion.”
Committing to action now is vital, as Indigenous communities across Canada grapple with how to overcome the threat of COVID-19. They’re fighting a battle not only for their lives, but their history.
“We have to take care of our Elders because the potential here is that we lose a whole generation of love, care, and information,” Jackson said. “We’re storytellers. Word of mouth is everything. If you lose a generation of knowledge where does that leave you?”
Luckily, many Indigenous communities have worked quickly to manage access into their territories. Jackson cited a community in Southern Alberta and one in Ontario as being great models of decisive action.
“They acted quickly and set up a first line of defense making sure that the people who were coming and going were registered,” Jackson said. “They made sure they [knew how many people were in the community] and had a place where people could isolate if they got the virus. They set up emergency shelters. They did all the right things. That proves that it can be done.”
Tom Jackson in a Red Cross vest talking to two children sitting at a table.However, if the virus gets into a community containment can quickly become challenging.
“Trying to create a safe and social distance is very difficult when you have 15 people living in a three-room house,” Jackson said.
But he believes when Indigenous leadership is equipped with the right information, they can rapidly mobilize their community to control the virus. They don’t have to do it alone though. The Canadian Red Cross can help.
“It’s our job to give them the best information, help them to prepare and make them aware of all the protocols that are involved,” Jackson said.
To that end the Red Cross, in partnership with government and Indigenous organizations, has created a free Indigenous Help Desk for community leadership to access COVID-19 resources and support. The information available is wide-ranging: training on how to protect community members, providing public health information, mental health and wellbeing supports, as well as virtual site visits to help adapt community buildings to isolation sites.
Tom Jackson standing in front of Canadian Red Cross backdrop.“The importance for me is that we have the ability to help people in crisis in real time,” Jackson said. “To have it exist is one thing, but we want people to be aware of it and be confident about using it.”
Jackson knows that trust is the key to accomplishing this goal.
“I’m probably older than most of the people in these communities and I’ve been in their homes for most of their lives,” Jackson said. “So, it’s a real privilege for me to be able to use the tools that the Creator gave me and the trust that the communities gave me to go back and say that the Red Cross is a safe place to reside, a safe place to get answers.”
The Help Desk service has already worked with numerous Indigenous communities across Canada and continues to be available to provide support during the pandemic.
“Survival of the fittest is not necessarily the survival of the strongest. It is the survival of those who can adapt,” Jackson said. “So, if somebody in the community gets sick, they need to adapt. If they haven’t asked for help before, that needs to change. They need to be brave and they need to ask for help because the thing that we can guarantee is that there’s somebody out there that can help you.”
Indigenous leadership, including Health Managers in Indigenous communities, are encouraged to contact the Help Desk for information and referrals related to COVID-19. The Help Desk can be reached at 1-833-937-1597, 7 days a week from 8 am to 8 pm (Central Standard Time).

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