“I didn’t want him to leave again”: NWT family mourns territory’s first death from COVID-19

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Gabe Kochon wanted to die on earth, surrounded by his family.

Not alone in a hospital bed, like he did this week – after contracting COVID-19.

“I thought he just had a cold, that’s all. We weren’t expecting COVID,” his daughter Rose McNeely told CBC News. “As soon as they said it… I was a little in shock. I was scared.”

Kochon, 92, a unilingual Sahtu Dene, was one of Fort Good Hope’s most cherished elders. He also carries the unfortunate distinction of being the Northwest Territories’ first death from COVID-19.

The territory is currently experiencing its largest COVID-19 outbreak, with more than 200 cases centered in its Sahtu region. Two previous outbreaks – in Yellowknife and the hamlet of Fort Liard – were quickly contained. The latest outbreak has spread to eight communities so far, with cases likely in at least one other community.

The outbreak began when a positive diagnosis emerged in a person who attended a long-awaited hand-playing tournament in early August in Fort Good Hope, which has since been dubbed a superspreader event.

Kochon entered the tournament in favor of his grandson, who couldn’t find a replacement to join his squad.

On August 10, the day after the tournament ended, Kochon developed a sniffle – something his family thought was just a cold. It started to deteriorate 24 hours later.

When they brought him to the Fort Good Hope health center, workers said he was dehydrated and kept him for an assessment, eventually sending him to Yellowknife by plane for further treatment.

As Kochon grew sicker, the government of the NWT. confirmed the first two cases of COVID-19 in the community, so he took a COVID-19 test. It’s come back positive.

Kochon has not been vaccinated. His daughter said it was because on the few times the vaccination clinic came to Fort Good Hope he was on earth, where he spent a lot of time hunting, trapping and enjoying his way of life. traditional life.

One last video chat

Kochon battled COVID-19 at the Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife next week, making slow progress. But it finally started to overpower him. His doctor called the family on Sunday evening, telling them that Kochon was having trouble breathing. It was coming to his last hours.

Kochon, right, has spent most of his life on earth. (Submitted by Rose McNeely)

The only person allowed alongside Kochon before his death was Bryan McNeely, Rose’s husband – because he, too, was in the hospital with COVID-19.

Bryan has set up a FaceTime video with the eight Kochon children and their families, so they can say goodbye to their patriarch for the last time.

“I told him ‘we are praying for you’ and… I didn’t want him to go yet because… we won’t all be together because of this COVID so really try to stay,” Rose said.

Despite being in a coma, Rose said her father had tears streaming down her face during the phone call.

Kochon’s life didn’t end until after his youngest son paid homage to him.

“I am grateful to all of us for being able to talk to him and see him go by,” she said.

A life lived on earth

Before succumbing to COVID-19, Kochon was known for his abundance of energy, even in old age.

“He was 92, but it was more like he was 60,” Rose said of her father. “He always drove his four-wheeler, he [drove] around his Ski-Doo, he put nets. ”

People turned to Kochon because he was a natural storyteller.

Two weeks before her death, Rose remembers watching her father captivate an audience of 12 children at the family’s fishing camp down the river, with his stories on land.

Kochon and his wife Sara Kochon, who died last May, on their 70th wedding anniversary in 2020. (Submitted by Rose McNeely)

Kochon also worked one-on-one with the children to teach them the correct way to set snares – so that they could eventually support their own families.

“They kept wanting more and more stories,” she said. “He just had patience, so the kids watched the little things he does.”

She said the most important lesson her father ever taught her was to never give up your language or way of life. So she took this to heart, fluent in the Northern Slave and teaching it to her grandchildren.

Kochon was also the father of Leitha Kochon, the host of Leghots’edeh, the CBC’s North Slavic-language news and current affairs radio program.

There are no plans to bring Kochon back to the country he loved so much, Rose said, due to travel restrictions inside and outside the Sahtu. Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake both remain under a containment order issued on August 15, shortly after the first cases were discovered.

The family are planning a closed-casket funeral in Yellowknife, where many of their children live, once COVID-19 cases start to decline nationwide.

“I just want to have a good funeral for my father,” she said.

Rose said she wanted people in the Sahtu to take COVID-19 more seriously, by wearing masks, isolating if they have traveled and getting tested as soon as possible.


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