Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry was in attendance at the Prince George Playhouse Tuesday night to celebrate the premiere of a documentary highlighting the resilience of First Nations communities during the pandemic.
The film is called The Northern Response and was produced by the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA).
It weaves together stories from the early days of the pandemic and documents how Indigenous communities throughout northern B.C. responded to the crisis, detailing everything from logistics to personal impacts on people, communities and culture.
“I have had the opportunity and privilege of meeting many leaders in the north and to actually be here and to meet people in person, and then to see the film, it is just really wonderful,” said Henry.
She said the film is a reminder of all the important connections that were made during a very challenging time.
“We are in a place of forgetting a lot of those things that happened – the fear, the uncertainty, the unknowing, the anxiety and ‘how do we deal with this?’ and those moments of joy – I am so, so appreciative that they did this film, and it will remind us that we are strong and resilient and that we can get through this if we are together.”
Henry added that she has tremendous respect for the First Nations leaders for how they cared for their communities.
“To take the best advice I could give and marry that with the needs of the people they know best, and I think we learned from that and we can take that with us to the other challenges we continue to face,” said Henry.
From the beginning of the pandemic response, Julie Morrison, FNHA’s vice-president of regional operations, said that she knew this was a story that they needed to document and share.
“When I started in this role, I knew what we were doing and what our communities were doing was a part of history and we needed to document what was happening and just seeing our office turn into a warehouse in a matter of weeks is evidence there is a lot going on,” said Morrison.
Dr. Shannon McDonald, the chief medical officer for FNHA, said the film reflects the endless energy she heard every single day on the job.
“As a public health doctor, we spent a lot of time in our training learning about pandemics and it is all academic, and it is all books, and all of a sudden I sat at my desk and went 'holy schmoly we are here this is it,'” said McDonald. “The people that FNHA serves are people with significant needs and significant challenges and we have such a small team. How are we ever going to do this?”
The film was directed by Rio Mitchell, who participated in a panel discussion along with editor Chris Hsiung following the screening.
“It was such a beautiful and special humbling experience to get to travel around and see the breadth of the territory and meet so many of you and hear your stories and how generously you shared them,” said Mitchell.
“I was so struck by so many stories both individuals and communities and within the FNHA of resiliency and sovereignty of healthcare in the face of the pandemic.”
She said FNHA did an incredible job of cobbling together a multitude of community-specific responses across the whole region.
“Those stories of resiliency and sovereignty I found so striking and by the end of filming was filled with a sense of the future of healthcare and I really believe the future of healthcare is Indigenous,” said Mitchell. "I am filled with so much awe and gratitude for all of your work and what you are doing and you are truly, honestly making history.”
Richard Jock, the CEO of FNHA, noted the importance of taking the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and apply those lessons to the toxic drug crisis, which will be a focus for FNHA in the coming year.