by Trent Derrick
“It has been a year since my Aunt passed due to Covid. Today I got my booster. The pandemic isn’t over so please continue to be smart out there.” — Caption to the photo above, posted September 2022
On September 17, 2021, my aunt, a matriarch in my dad’s house Wiihlemii passed away due to COVID. She was a mentor to many in our village of Gitanyow, within the Gitxsan Nation in Western Canada.
Our communities have faced some of the same barriers as broader society in fighting COVID. We had those who supported vaccines and those who didn’t trust the government at all and refused to get vaccinated. Yet this distrust is also compounded by a history of systemic racism, and many didn’t want to partake in the roll-out if it meant dealing with the health care system. That’s why it’s important that our own leadership take a role in working towards the safety of all.
My aunt made sure I knew this since I am the son of a Hereditary Chief. One of the most important parts of our culture she taught me was: Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs are rich in land yet poor in stature. She used to emphasize that once you understand this key teaching you will understand what it means to be Gitxsan.
The lesson is that while the Hereditary Chief may be the caretaker of the land, he is also no more important than the lowest person in his or her house. We are all caretakers of the community and we have a responsibility to look out for each other.
Vaccines & boosters can protect us all.
That is why, as the son of a Hereditary Chief, it is important that I get my vaccine against COVID-19 and any boosters recommended for me. It is for the safety of our community, and the longevity of our culture.
We are an oral tradition so our teachings are passed along through gatherings which were postponed during the pandemic. We weren’t able to do our ceremonies, government or traditions. Separation took its toll on our communities and the quicker and safer we could come together the better in order to keep the momentum of trying to preserve what we have.
One of the last things my Aunt told me while she was in the hospital was to make sure I did my best so that no one else gets COVID. And then the disease took her and the knowledge she kept. I will never enjoy listening to her and my dad speak our language, tell stories or correct me if I was following proper protocols.
We had few language keepers at the start of the pandemic and even fewer now. We risk losing the knowledge of our land, language and culture so it is our responsibility to ensure that they are protected.
Trent W. Derrick is a member of the Gitxsan First Nation. Trent’s post, like all others on this blog, was a voluntary submission. If you want to help make a difference, submit your own post by emailing Noah at [email protected]. We depend on real people like you sharing experience to protect others from misinformation.