COVID-19: DC’s First Peoples Indigenous Centre supporting students

Jon Colwell Photo credit: Courtesy of Keith White

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Durham College (DC) has been making calls to all of its self-identifying Indigenous students to make sure they’re supported.

Julie Pigeon, Indigenous Coach at DC, says the staff in the First Peoples Indigenous Centre have all faced similar but different circumstances during COVID-19.

“There’s a lot of similarities amongst staff on how this is affecting them personally, not being able to connect with family and friends in the same way,” says Pigeon.

Since DC was forced to close the school, Pigeon has dropped off cedar medicines on students’ porches who need them, but are too afraid to leave home.

Some Indigenous students in other communities are facing their own unique troubles.

“Not at our institution, but some people that go back to their home communities deal with internet connecting issues because they don’t have access to consistent WiFi,” says Pigeon.

Some Indigenous communities have limited access to their reserves for non-community members to ensure the safety of the people.

“I know Manitoulin Island has some reserves that have put up checkpoints, not allowing non-community members into the community to keep them safe,” says Pigeon.

The Missisaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN) is located 30 minutes away from DC. The community has closed its convenience store due to low sales and have shut down the the Great Blue Heron Casino.

“There’s still a lot of traffic, but it’s all for gas and cigarettes,” says Jon Colwell, a member of the MSIFN community.

However, the community located beside Port Perry has not closed off any parts of the reserve.

“We can’t shut our [reserve] down to other people because we have municipal roads running through 95 per cent of our res. We couldn’t close it to the public even if we wanted to,” says Colwell.

Colwell works in the band office as an IT assistant on the island and has been off work since the pandemic started.

“We shut down the office pretty early on, and then all the essential workers have been working remotely from, the chief and council have been doing normal meetings via Zoom,” says Colwell.

While Indigenous communities brace against the pandemic, Pigeon wants to make sure students know the First Nations Indigenous Centre at DC is offering support.

“As soon as decisions are made, information will flow to students, if students require additional resources or support they are available,” says Pigeon.