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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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Another blow as Judge throws out Kiggundu’s lawyer Muwema



When court sat on Friday to hear the Kiggundu’s application to stop independent audit, he did not have a written application, and Justice Henry Adonyo instead ordered the plaintiff’s lawyer Fred Muwema to go make a written application seeking court to dismiss the audit and return to court on September 30 for a hearing of the application. But this adds more pressure on Kiggundu who is choking with the loans.

On 31 August, the judge ordered the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU) to carry out and independent audit into the accounts of the businessman and financial statements exchanged between the two parties, and present a report to court.

When asked by journalists why he has filed for an application seeking dismissal of the audit, Fred Muwema had this to say. “We are saying that let the validity and legality of those credit facilities (loans) be decided first before you can audit” He said.

The ruling on the application of the main suit to determine whether the businessman owes loan arrears to the bank is set for 5th October 2020, after which a date for hearing of the case will be set.


Hamis Kiggundu through his companies Ham enterprises and Kiggs International (U) ltd sued DTB branches in Kenya and Uganda for deducting money from his accounts something which the bank contends and said they only acted as per the loan agreement of deducting 30% from Kiggundu’s accounts to recover the credit facilities rendered to him between February 2011 and September 2016

But Court documents filed by the bank in their defense shows that Kiggundu, between February 2011 and September 2016, was granted various credit facilities by the said DTB Banks.

First, via Ham Enterprises Limited, Kiggundu obtained a loan of $6,663,453 and another Sh2.5bn from the DTB (U) to finance his projects in the real estate business.

Later, according to New Vision, he got a facility worth $4.5m through Kiggs International (U) Limited from DTB (K) and mortgaged his properties, which include Plot 328 located at Kawuku on Block 248 Kyadondo, three plots that include 36, 37 and 38 on Folio 1533 Victoria Crescent II situated in Kyadondo and land on Makerere Hill Road on LRV 3716 Folio 10 Plot 923 Block 9.

Documents show that as of January 21, 2020, Kiggundu was in default on payment obligations of $6.298m on the loan facility of $6.663m, as well as sh2.885b on the demand overdraft facility of sh1.5b and the temporary demand overdraft facility of sh1b.

The banks say that Kiggundu was in default on the payment of another $3.662m out of a total loan facility of $4m and another $458,604 on a loan facility of $500,000, as of January 21, 2020.

The DTB consequently served him with a demand notice to either pay up or lose the assets that he submitted as collateral security. The bank threatened to attach a plot on Makerere Hill Road and other prime commercial properties.

Analysts says that Kiggundu’s lawyer is playing delaying tactics aimed at stopping the independent audit as ordered by the court earlier. Kiggundu had wanted court to believe his own audit of loan transactions, but that would amount to injustice to the banks that gave him money-DTB Uganda and DTB Kenya.

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Minister Rukutana charged with attempted murder, remanded




The state minister for Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana has been remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district.

Rukutana appeared before Ntungamo Grade One magistrate Nazifah Namayanja this afternoon from where he was charged with seven offences related to attempted murder, assault, malicious damage, and threatening violence.

Rukutana was captured in a video that went viral on social media showing him grabbing a gun from one of his bodyguards and started shooting at a vehicle belonging to supporters of his political rival Naome Kabasharira. At the time of the incident, Rukutana had just lost the Rushenyi country NRM flag to Kabasharira.

The prosecution alleges that on September 5, 2020, at Kagugu village in Ntungamo district, Rukutana and others still at large assaulted Julius Niwamanya and threatened to kill or injure him together with three others. The others are Stuart Kamukama, Dan Rwibirungi, and Moses Kamukama. 

It is also alleged that Rukutana also willfully and unlawfully damaged a motor vehicle registration number UAR 840X Toyota Rav 4 type which belongs to Moses Muhumuza.

According to the Judiciary public relations officer, Jameson Karemani, Rukutana has not taken a plea of these charges against him since they can only be tried by the chief magistrate who was not in court today.

As a result, the magistrate decided to send him to Kyamugorani, awaiting his return to court on Tuesday.      

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Lira district headquarters closed over COVID-19




Lira district headquarters have been closed after one staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

On Monday morning, district staff were blocked at the gate with only the deputy chief administrative officer, his secretary and the receptionist allowed access to their offices. 

Paul Samuel Mbiiwa, the deputy chief administrative officer says that only heads of department will be allowed at the headquarters while the rest will work from home. He adds that the restriction will help to curb the spread of the virus.

“You see corona is not a joke. We have taken a step at fighting it and that is why you are seeing the staff outside. Even in my office here I do not want people to come if there is anything we can discuss on the phone.”

Francis Okello Olwa, a senior community development officer who doubles as the district spokesperson says that the entire district offices will be fumigated and closed for two days.

Health authorities in the district are planning to take samples from all the staff because they could have interacted with the one who tested positive. Currently, there are 19 COVID-19 patients under treatment at Lira regional referral hospital.     

On Sunday four health workers at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Dr Patrick Odongo, a senior medical officer at the hospital also succumbed to the virus.  

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