COVID-19: How are First Nations elders doing?

I checked in with some elders from Cowichan Tribes to ask how they are doing, and what they need.

This article is from The Discourse’s Cowichan Valley newsletter. Sign up to get it in your inbox.

The world has changed a lot since you first heard from me in this newsletter, three weeks ago. I want to begin with a big thank you to those who made contributions and shared words of support for my work at The Discourse Cowichan. I’m grateful to have you behind me.

Today, as we all grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, I will seek to answer this question: How are Quw’utsun (Cowichan Tribes) elders doing right now, and what support do they still need to stay healthy?

Like last time, I’ll use a few Hul’q’umi’num words, and offer translations at the bottom of the article.

How are elders doing right now, and what support do they need?

After chatting on Facebook with several sul-hween and Quw’utsun mustiimuhw, one thing was clear. Many of the elders are doing just fine, with a dedicated support network and a well stocked pantry, while other elders are not so lucky. It was hard to ask some elders this question, as once you ask if they needed anything you are obligated to provide what they need. Needless to say I spent more time gathering and delivering things to elders then I spent asking questions!

I talked with my shhwum’nikw Hwiemtun and he said he’s been “doing good, been busy around yard catching up on projects.” I got a hold of my shuyulh Dave Thomas who said he considered his family lucky. “We are not struggling at any point.” He went on to say something I heard first hand from other elders: “I know we do have a few people out there that are struggling, I know that for sure.” While I was talking to Gloria Johnny she said, “We watch a lot of Netflix” and she went on to say that something that would help them would be “having someone pick up things we need.”

The less fortunate elders I won’t name out of respect. One of my shhwum’nikw said, “Oh my goodness someone cares. It’s been so hard. Having to stay in. Can we get help?” So I brought them groceries. Another elder said, “ We are doing our best to stay home. I feel like crying as I worry for our Elders.” While a disgruntled community member said, “Our young people need to respect this message and to stop going to the big house, burnings, and other large functions it’s not disrespectful, as our Ancestors will understand.”

These big issues need big solutions and I got some great ideas on how to help our elders from Joe Elliott. “The greatest gift that we can give to our community is to respect social distance and self isolation, to frequently wash your hands, and don’t touch your face. We all need to work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19.” Joe went on to say, “It would be nice to provide COVID 19 emergency kits and food to our Elders, hand sanitizer, homemade face masks, etc, and smoke fish, deer, elk, salmon, etc and the staples to go with it. Have people pick up medication for our elders. Have someone to phone our elders and to set up a support line for our elders to call. Maybe set up live feeds to give self care tools to our elders, such as breathing techniques, yoga for elders, and short exercise.”

Self isolation and social distancing are new to everyone and we all react differently to these new pressures. But no matter how different we are, we all need the same things. Food, medicine, love, and respect are all universal needs. So no matter who you are, make sure your elders are well supplied in all of the above. And we’ll all get through this together.

Huy tseep q’u,

Jared Qwustenuxun Williams,
grandson of Qwustaanulwut

Hul’q’umi’num language guide

(Here’s a guide to Hul’q’umi’num pronunciation)

  • Sul-hween – Elders
  • Quw’utsun mustiimuhw – Cowichan People
  • Shhwum’nikw – Aunt or uncle
  • Shuyulh – Older sibling or cousin
  • Huy tseep q’u – Thank you (plural)


  • Our Cowichan Communities Health Network has put together a list of supports currently available through Cowichan service organizations.
  • Volunteer Cowichan has a number of programs to support elders in the Cowichan region. Email or call 250-748-2133 ext. 0 and leave a message if you need support, or can offer it.
  • BC211 is helping to match seniors with volunteers who can support them. Visit BC211 online or call 211 if you want or can offer help. [end]

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