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Opening up, one step at a time

With the help of fearless leaders and the relentless strength and diligence of this powerful collective, Kahnawake is no longer in a state of an emergency.

Over the past 17 months and 217 Facebook lives later, along with countless consultations and press releases, the Task Force sat down for its final meeting.

“The community protected one another in a way that I have not seen anywhere else,” said Lisa Westaway, the executive director of Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC) and Task Force member. “All for the greater good, despite differences people may have had.”

Westaway emphasized the impressive resilience that was applied to this tireless and often horrific period of time. Whether it was playing music for elders, Halloween decorations, holiday concerts, and events, or even just simply reaching out to a loved one over the phone, Kahnawake took on this challenge with the communal strength that a passer-by may never witness in their lifetime.

In the discussion at the final meeting, the Force rescinded the majority of the previous restrictions, leaving only 17 directives currently in effect. The ones that remain are focused less on restrictive measures, and some even remind the community of the measures that were lifted, for example, directive number 57.2, stated that there are no longer restrictions on hours of operation for businesses.

Directive number 65, the one announcing the beginning of the recovery phase, explained that Lloyd Phillips, the commissioner of Public Safety and the Head of the Task Force, will be in charge of maintaining, overseeing, and enforcing the recovery plan, with the power to revoke or adapt directives where he sees fit.

According to Westaway, her colleague and leadership figure has proven himself more than worthy of this difficult task. “His leadership has provided safety, trust, confidence, and knowledge, allowing Kahnawake to navigate through this pandemic and these very difficult and confusing times,” she said.

Although it may not feel like a major shift in restrictions or directives, moving from the state of emergency to the recovery phase is a significant change that Kahnawa’kehró:non have been looking forward to for quite some time.

“The biggest distinction is that now our mandate is focused on reducing measures. Instead of responding to an emergency, it will bring us back to a state of normalcy,” said Phillips. “In the response phase, you are assessing what’s happening and you have the authority to get the job done, but during recovery, you are focusing on reintegration.”

The Task Force’s mandate expired on June 21, and there has been a shift of authority. “We will continue to advise and lend expertise,” said the commissioner, “but the ultimate decisions are going to be within individual organizations.”

Westaway emphasized this transfer of responsibility and explained that the community is now moving toward making decisions for themselves.

“It takes away from the ability to infringe on people’s human rights the way that we have had to do,” said the executive director. “It speaks to the level of risk in the community at the time being.”

Westaway explained that Kahnawake is moving out of essential service mode, and organizations are preparing people to physically go back to work. This being said, they are not expecting a quick and seamless transition, and understand that similar to adapting to the stay-at-home order, heading back into the swing of things may take some time. “

We have set ourselves up rather quickly to be able to work from home or do things differently,” she said. “So, how do we maintain the elements that we brought into the workplace that added to a positive quality of life?”

Westaway suggests that organizations consider a gradual return to work. “People are used to being home and they are not running all over the place. They are able to get their groceries done, take care of their kids, do laundry and work,” she said. “Their whole life has changed and this will be another hard transition.”

Reopening and the new world we are entering could not be possible without the vaccination rollout, and it’s not over yet. There are 76.7 percent of adults 18 years and older who have been vaccinated with their first dose, and 36.7 percent who have received both doses. Although these numbers are increasing, Westaway still urges the community to continue pushing. “That’s still one in four who are not vaccinated,” she explained.

With this being said, 82 percent of 16 to 17-year-olds have been vaccinated with their first dose, and already 32 percent have received their second. These numbers are indicative of the power of youth in the community.

“They have suffered a lot to protect their elders and their families, and it’s important for them to get back to their lives and the way that they want to live it,” said Westaway. “This is an interesting age because you’re developing a social conscience and starting to see outside of just yourself. They have incorporated the bigger picture even more so than some adults can.”

The 12 to 15-year-olds are now 56 percent vaccinated, and Westaway hopes this number will increase to create a smooth reopening of schools come September.

At the end of the day, along with being excited about the change in town, Westaway is worried that people think they are completely out of the woods.

“I want to let people enjoy their summer because there are a lot fewer risks and people need to live their lives,” she said. “We do expect more cases, it’s probably inevitable. But as long as we are able to contract trace and isolate, and as long as people are aware of what they have to do, things will be okay.”

Although proud and optimistic, she reminds the community that with the triumph of moving into a new phase comes grief, pain, sadness, and anger that the entire world has felt over the last several months.

Westaway, her team at KMHC, along with Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services and the other organizations in this tight-knit community, will continue to lead us through this transition, and remind us that acknowledging trauma is healthy. I

n Kahnawake, like everywhere else, some people see the world through an extreme lens. Certain community members may not have left their house in a year-and-a-half, and others may not think the virus is so bad, or even exist at all. But, with these contrasting opinions, and everything in between, Phillips has one piece of advice.

“As a Task Force, we have been guiding and leading the community since March of 2020. We have shown that we are able to make sound decisions and achieve our goals,” he said. “Trust in the science and the decisions that have been made since 2020. Trust that we made the right decisions today.”

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