Family of Marcia Thomas hopes her death will remind people to stay safe at home

Marcia Thomas was on a good path this year. She was almost three years sober and was making amends with her family after years of struggles. She was living beside her brother, staying safe and healthy, and finally starting to smile more.

Then one night in late September she made a mistake in judgement that she would pay for with her life. Marcia decided to go visit some old friends who were not in her COVID bubble. She thought it was safe because they were her friends and none of them had the virus. Within a few days she was in hospital, and shortly after on life support. Marcia lost her battle with COVID-19 on November 25, and her family wants to share her story in hope that it will save lives.

“I just keep expecting her to come to the window next door to say good morning,” explains Marcia’s brother Jackson Dennis. “It’s hard to believe she’s gone.”

Jackson said losing his sister to COVID-19 has been hard on the whole family. Not only did it happen very fast, but they were not given an opportunity to say goodbye. Like so many fatal COVID cases once Marcia was hospitalized family could no longer visit her. Now that she has passed, they cannot have a service or gather to support each other because of the restrictions that are in place. Jackson said that makes it even worse.

“It’s the natural next step to say goodbye,” he explained. “This virus has taken that from us.”

Jackson said his sister was careful when it came to COVID restrictions, but she did let her guard down. She decided to go over to the apartment building where she used to live to visit old friends. She had been stopped drinking for almost three years, but that night she decided to go have a few drinks with her friends. The building where they lived did not have any COVID restrictions in place. People were free to come and go as they liked, and visitors were not restricted or asked to wear a mask.

Jackson blames a lack of protocol at the building for his sister’s exposure. He said more needs to be done to keep people safe. He also admits that everyone must be responsible for their own actions as well. He said the province is locking things down for a reason, and it’s time people started listening.

“It’s not in our power to change or bend the rules,” Jackson said. “We all have to do our part. This is serious.”

Even though none of Marcia’s friends from that night had COVID symptoms, they still passed the virus on to her. Marcia’s daughter Linnea Bowes said part of what makes this virus challenging is that you sometimes do not see it coming.

“My mum worked hard to stay safe, but here we are, mourning a huge loss,” she said. Linnea said for years she and her mother have struggled with their relationship. Alcohol got in the way and for much of her life Linnea had to protect herself by distancing from her mother. It was only in the last little bit that they managed to repair that relationship. Unfortunately, COVID has taken any hope she had of letting her mother get to know her children.

Linnea said her mother had underlying health issues that meant she was not strong enough to fight the virus. She said for that reason once she contracted the disease everything happened fast.

“We couldn’t visit her and could only do video chatting for a little while,” she said. “The last time we talked to her she was in the ICU, and then she was gone.”

Jackson said if he could give people one piece of advice it would be to not take chances.

“Nothing is worth the risk you are taking if you don’t follow the recommendations,” he said. “My sister just wanted to go see her friends, but it just wasn’t worth it.”

He wants people to see what his family is going through and learn from their loss. He wants people to stay home, only socialize with people in their own household, and wear a mask.

“This virus isn’t a joke, and we have to take it seriously,” he said.

Huu-ay-aht First Nations has had several citizens contract the disease. Fortunately, the Nation has lost only one person to COVID, but Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. said that is one too many.

“We need our citizens to take this seriously,” he said. “My family has lost someone due to this virus, and I don’t want another family to suffer the same loss.”

He asks people to follow the restrictions. He also said it is especially important that people stay home and follow the non-essential travel ban. He said at this time visitors are not welcome in Anacla. With the holidays just around the corner, he admits this will be difficult. He wants citizens to stay in their own community and only have contact with the people in their household.

“We hear a lot about what we can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but in order to make a difference, everyone has to do their part,” he said. “Our Nation has lost one too many people to this virus. I pray we don’t lose anymore.”

British Columbia currently has the following restrictions in place related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • No social gatherings at your residence beyond your household
  • No social gatherings of any size in public places
  • Your core bubble should consist of only the people in your household. If you live alone, you must keep your bubble to one or two people
  • Masks are mandatory in all public spaces
  • No adult indoor or outdoor sports permitted, youth sports must follow restrictions in place, including no travel
  • All non-essential travel is to be avoided – essential travel includes regular travel for work within your region and travel for things like medical appointments
  • People should also clean your hands regularly, avoid touching your face, and keep a safe distance from others

Citizens to receive COVID-19 Citizen Support Payment

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect people around the world, Huu-ay-aht First Nations wants to ensure its citizens are supported through the second wave.

Huu-ay-aht is offering a second round of COVID-19 Citizen Support Payment in the amount of $500 to each citizen. The intention of this funding is to help citizens and their families through the hardships that COVID-19 has created. This funding will replace the regular dividend that is given at Christmas time.

For full details on the payment, see the announcement: COVID-19 Citizen Support Payment

Duane Nookemis sworn in as member of Executive Council

On September 26, Duane Nookemis won the by-election for an empty seat on Huu-ay-aht’s Executive Council.

Duane was officially sworn in on October 5, 2020 on Zoom, in order to follow COVID-19 guidelines. Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin (Derek Peters) carried out the official oath of office. Members of Executive Council, administration staff, as well as friends and family joined to meeting to witness the event.

Each member of Executive Council offered a message of encouragement to their newest councillor. Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin (Derek Peters) offered congratulations to Duane and reminded him that this is an important role and he must take his new responsibilities seriously. He added that he is confident Duane will serve Huu-ay-aht citizens well in his new role.

Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. also congratulated Duane and offered him some words of advice. He said to always remember we are all one big family and that decisions must be made with that in mind. He said Duane focused on making things better for the people when he spoke during his campaign. He said this is an important thing to remember. He stressed the importance of Duane’s interest in finding employment for citizens and focusing on education, pointing out this is something that will make the Nation stronger. The Chief said it is an essential step in order to close the gap that exists between the average Canadian and that of Huu-ay-aht citizens when it comes to economic stature and income.

Robert offered a personal congratulations to Duane and said he should be proud of himself. He said Duane is a role model in how he conducts himself and how he has raised his family.

Duane thanked everyone for their kind words and support. He also offered his appreciation to all of the citizens who supported him. He looks forward to continuing to have open communication with citizens so he can address their issues and work with them. He said he particularly looks forward to working with the youth and being the role model Robert spoke about.

The next step is a review of Executive Council portfolios. These will be announced soon.

Huu-ay-aht is one step closer to opening Mother Centre

Offering support and healing from multi-generational trauma is a key focus that came out of Huu-ay-aht’s independent Social Services Panel’s work. In the final report one of the recommendations was to work to establish a centre modeled on the Vancouver Mother Centre.

“Building a road to healing the effects of multi-generational trauma will be of fundamental and central importance to bringing Huu-ay-aht children ‘home’ and keeping them safe, healthy, and connected with Huu-ay-aht community and culture.  This healing must be done family by family and collectively as a Nation.” (Social Services Project p. 24)

Huu-ay-aht First Nations and the Port Alberni Mother Centre Society has been working with B.C. Housing to develop an Aboriginal Mother Centre, Oomiiqsu, in Port Alberni (Recommendation 26 of the Social Services Project).  Oomiiqsu, which means mother in Nuu-chah-nulth, is a unique, creative, and culturally appropriate approach to keeping families together, while providing them with the necessary guidance and tools to not only prevent children from entering care, but also for the families to flourish once outside of Oomiiqsu. Mothers and children (12 and under) will live in Oomiiqsu and receive wrap-around supports to address ongoing safety concerns from Usma (DAA) and/or Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Oomiiqsu will house multiple programs and services to support Huu-ay-aht and other Nuu-chah-nulth families:

  • 12-unit residential program for mothers and their children, ages 9-12
  • Four second-stage housing units
  • Oomiiqsu Child Care Centre
  • Office space for the Child and Family Wellness Department

Land has been purchased by BC Housing at 4305 Kendall Avenue and design plans for Oomiiqsu and Oomiiqsu Child Care Centre are complete. The Nation is still finalizing the plan for the centre, and we look forward to sharing this rendering with everyone once plans are finalized.

 Further progress on the project is subject to other approvals and funding from partners, but Huu-ay-aht is committed to making this centre a reality. As we move through the initial steps, we will continue to offer regular updates when they are available.

Huu-ay-aht made a rezoning application to the City of Port Alberni on September 14, 2020. Signage notifying the public of this rezoning will be posted at the proposed site within 15 days to notify the public. 

This is an exciting project for Huu-ay-aht and the Alberni Valley, and we look forward to sharing more information from you as the plan progresses.