In Dispatches,News and Views

Pandemic Perspectives: Photo Essay from Tla-o-qui-aht Territory

May 27, 2020
Gisèle Maria Martin

Gisèle Maria Martin

During a pandemic, Indigenous communities tend to be among the most vulnerable, given their often-limited access to water, food supplies, adequate healthcare, and other factors. In this special “Pandemic Perspectives” series of our Dispatches, we’re sharing stories from around the world to shed some light on the obstacles Indigenous Peoples face in light of COVID-19 lockdowns—along with the ingenuity and unity with which they’re facing them.
This post is by Gisèle Maria Martin, a member of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation—a Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation (band government) living in unceded ƛaʔuukʷiʔatḥ/ Tla-o-qui-aht Territory on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.


Our community is working together to distribute messages and food during this time. Entrances to the Esowista Village where I live are guarded, with only residents allowed in.

Tla-o-qui-aht Territory, Canada

Tla-o-qui-aht Territory, Vancouver Island. Photo: Nikater, 2007. Source: Wikipedia.

The pandemic has definitely been an added stress on our communities, and different problems are coming to awareness. For one thing, a large number of our Nation’s people who rely on hitchhiking now need additional help getting supplies. Also, we are wondering how to help those who have substance addictions, so that they don’t further endanger themselves and the community. People have been out gathering and delivering traditional foods more than in recent years, and that is a treat to see.

Making harpoon tips with ƛ̓učc̓qʷii (mussel shells).

Joe Martin (my dad) explaining how to make harpoon tips with ƛ̓učc̓qʷii (mussel shells) during a recent socially distant visit.

In terms of education, the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted language learning and cultural programs. An outdoor youth cultural program I had planned has now been put on hold, among other things. Though some information can be shared online, certain traditional knowledge will always best be shared in person, on-site, and outside.

The disruption to the local tourism industry has definitely made space for many animals here, and I am witnessing multitudes of animal tracks on the beach, flocks of different birds bobbing on the water where crowds of surfers usually assemble, and grey whales feeding in the bay unimpeded by whale watching boats and motors. The skies are also peaceful from the lack of planes. The pause in frantic human activity is having a beautiful effect.

beach photo by Gisele Maria Martin

Fewer human footprints on the beach these days.

beach photo by Gisele Maria Martin

Sea and sky in Tla-o-qui-aht Territory.

With the absence of a dominating tourism industry in our territory this year, Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks and the Allies Program have some adjustments to make, along with everyone else.

—Gisèle Maria Martin


Read more by this author: “Learning Our Language Is Like Learning to See in Full Color: An Interview with Gisèle Maria Martin (Tla-o-qui-aht).”

Have a Pandemic Perspectives story to share from your Indigenous community? We’d love to share it with the world! Send us your idea!

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