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The Indigenous artists designing coronavirus masks | Indigenous rights



When Delores Gull was a little girl her grandmother taught her how to bead and sew. Ever since, creating art inspired by her Cree heritage has helped the 43-year-old mother of three navigate life’s ups and downs. So when the coronavirus pandemic struck, it seemed natural that she should turn those skills to making masks. 

She began researching masks and grew fascinated with the long, beak-like masks doctors used to wear in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries during outbreaks of the plague and other deadly epidemics. The masks were filled with aromatic scents like dried flowers, herbs or spices because the doctors – wrongly – believed they helped to ward off “bad air”.

“When I saw the doctor plague masks they reminded me of our Sundance ceremonies we have here,” Delores explained, speaking by phone from her home in Ontario, Canada. “I thought to myself, ‘I have to make one’.”

The Sundance is a sacred Plains Indian ceremony, that was once banned by European colonisers, and which involves community members gathering to dance, sing and pray.

Delores says her culture influences everything she makes.

“Every time I come across smoked tan hide like moose or caribou, when I smell it,” she pauses to take a long, deep breath, “it drives me to make something.

“I believe I’m supposed to be carrying on this tradition of my culture and showing the world that our work is still alive.”

Delores’ mask features a long beak made from smoked, tanned caribou hide.

She packed traditional medicines from the land into the end of the beak to offset the stresses of dealing with the pandemic.

‘I believe I’m supposed to be carrying on this tradition of my culture and showing the world that our work is still alive,’ Delores says [Photo courtesy of Delores Gull]

There is traditional flower beadwork intertwined with beading with symbolic meaning for Delores. A beaded thunder beam along the top edge of the beak is a reminder to keep balance, she says.

“The thunder represents lightning from above. That power reminds us to keep in balance.”

There are three circles on each side to represent breathing.

“This is to remember to take deep breaths. To keep life simple and not to complicate things.”

The mask is on display in her art studio. She says she has received several inquiries about creating custom-made masks but is currently backlogged with orders for the traditional multi-coloured ribbon skirts and other items she usually makes.

‘It feels like we are not a priority’

Two provinces west of Ontario, in the golden prairie lands of Saskatchewan, another Cree artist from the Lac La Ronge Indian Band has made an eye-catching mask.

Vanessa Hyggen, 38, lives in the city of Saskatoon. Her paintings of landscapes have been featured in various exhibitions across Canada.

She is inspired by nature, her culture and sustainability, she explains.

“The land has always nurtured us and now, as we all stay home, Mother Earth has a chance to breathe,” she says.

“Humans aren’t out running amok right now – we are being more thoughtful. The animals are coming out into spaces they don’t normally go. I heard our bear numbers are increasing up north because no tourist hunters are going there to hunt them.”

She says she wanted to create a tangible message and to document the pandemic in a way that would last forever.

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Vanessa Hyggen’s artwork is inspired by her Cree culture, nature and sustainability [Photo courtesy of Vanessa Hyggen]

Her deer hide, beaded mask depicts a night and day landscape scene on either side with green grass and a river running through them.

“The day/night sides mean we are not escaping it [the pandemic]. It’s our reality for an unforeseen amount of time,” she explains.

“But I thought of the health of Indigenous Peoples and the relation to the river system. There’s a hospital in La Ronge, 20 minutes away from my reserve, but it’s already under-resourced.”

She discusses the discrepancies in the resources available to Indigenous communities and the resulting poverty, poor housing and inadequate access to healthcare and clean drinking water.

The design on her mask also represents the treaties signed between the First Nations and the Crown upon the founding of the nation of Canada. Those sacred agreements included clauses, such as one in Treaty 6, promising a medicine chest or in modern terms, medical care for First Nations.

“As long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the river flows,” was a binding promise made by the Commissioner of Treaty 6, Alexander Morris to indicate the everlasting nature of the Treaty.

However, many Indigenous people, including Vanessa, believe those treaty obligations have not been honoured by the government.

Indigenous face masks - Brandi Morin

‘The day/night sides mean we are not escaping it [the pandemic]. It’s our reality for an unforeseen amount of time,’ says Vanessa [Photo courtesy of Vanessa Hyggen]

There is another ongoing epidemic Vanessa has been trying to draw attention to: Indigenous youth suicides.

In the autumn of 2019, the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation declared a state of emergency after three children, one just 10 years old, committed suicide in three weeks.

According to Statistics Canada, suicide rates among Indigenous people are significantly higher than those of non-Indigenous populations.

“I feel frustrated with our current provincial government. We have young people in Regina asking the government to act on a youth suicide intervention bill, but the government recently voted it down. It feels like we are not a priority to them,” Vanessa says.

Even though the conversations her mask invokes may be tough, she hopes the beauty of the design will help offset that and inspire and inform people interested in Indigenous culture and the issues affecting Indigenous people.

“I’ve had pretty positive responses and it’s helpful for me during this stressful time,” she says.

‘Documenting history’

Meanwhile, high up in the Arctic community of Inuvik, North West Territories, Eliza Firth, 63, has also found comfort in crafting her response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Her moosehide mask features colourful silk embroidered flowers with tufted moose hair. Hanging beads are attached with porcupine quills on each side with red, black, yellow and white beads representing the colours of all humanity.

“This symbolises we are all in this together,” explains Eliza, who calls her piece the Delta Rose.

It took her a month to make. It was an emotional experience, she says, and one that will stay with her forever.

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 Eliza Firth’s moosehide mask incorporates porcupine quills, beads and tufted moose hair [Photo courtesy of Eliza Firth]

Eliza is Metis, a mix of Gwich’in and Scottish heritage. The Gwich’in live mostly above the Arctic Circle and are known for their craftsmanship.

It was during a two-week isolation period that Eliza was inspired to make a mask. She was feeling the effects of social isolation. Creating helped to take her mind off the severity of the pandemic.

But while she was making it, she began thinking about her mother, who survived a tuberculosis pandemic.

In the past, TB has devasted Indigenous communities in Canada. When Eliza’s mother caught it, she was sent thousands of kilometres away from home to an Indian hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, where she spent two years alone.

“It was a sad time in her life. My mother sewed while she was in the hospital to help her get through,” she says.

Eliza’s sister once spent time in a hospital being treated for hepatitis and experienced isolation too.

“I got emotional one evening. That feeling of loneliness just came over me. I thought of them (my mother and sister) and how they felt. I had to put it down,” she says of the mask. “[But] the next day I kept at it.”

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The mask, called Delta Rose, features silk embroidered flowers [Photo courtesy of Eliza Firth]

She stitched four tiny pockets to the inside of the mask. In them she tucked medicines including a mixture of pine needles, which when boiled and breathed in, is beneficial to the respiratory system.

She asked a local photographer to take her photo in her mask. Unbeknown to her, the photographer entered it into a Facebook contest. The mask was chosen among 49 to be featured in a Canada-wide exhibit that will travel across the country over the next three years.

But she says she will never make another pandemic mask again.

“I am wowed by the feedback. I guess I didn’t know the strength of this project,” she says. “It’s amazing and I’m very fortunate to be chosen for the exhibition. But I’ll never make one like this again. It was too much to go through for me. This was documenting history. I’ll leave it at that.”

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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million



Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe




A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News




Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.

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