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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.

Indigenous face masks - Brandi Morin

 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.”

Indigenous face masks - Brandi Morin

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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Year of the Overcomer-Prophet Elvis Mbonye



The eagerly awaited first fellowship of controversial Prophet Elvis Mbonye left viewers shocked as he declined to issue his now famous prophecies citing a refusal to settle for the new normal. In an on online service watched by thousands, the Prophet said him prophesying would “ be a concession to gathering online, rather than physically” further stating that it is not the will of God that church should meet online!

The Covid-19 SOPs given by the government and Ministry of Health have heavily impacted gatherings and as a result, ministries with large congregations have resorted to online services. The prophet however insists that this is a ploy to diminish the influence of the Kingdom of God.

He however proceeded to give the Prophetic Word of the year , saying “This is the year of the Overcomers” amidst cheers from those present. He also stated that this would not be a “gloomy” year, probably meaning that this would be a good year. Given that many of his prophecies have actually come to pass, should we pay more attention to him? We eagerly await the prophecies this year.

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Kabuleta blasts Media over “COFIT” reporting in new rant.



Presidential hopeful Joseph Kiiza Kabuleta has expressed dissatisfaction with the media over what he says was”alarmist reporting” over the Covid-19 pandemic which he calls “COFIT” a term we believe is a wordplay between covid and profit, a view held by many that claims that the disease was exaggerated to maximize funding and corruption. Kabuleta has come to be known for his straight shooting style and admirable command of facts and policy, even being touted as the “smartest candidate” in the is the full statement:


By Joseph Kabuleta

“Don’t look at where you fell, but where you slipped”

We know where the media fell. They fell when they were caught in the crossfire between opposition politicians and trigger-happy security hitmen; when they were unfairly targeted as they went about their noble duty of covering this explosive elective season. Sadly, some journalists are nursing wounds; others weren’t so lucky.
But it’s important for us to understand where they slipped.

If someone is sitting by the roadside sipping on his brew and he sees a gang of people sprinting past him, as if for their lives, it’s understandable if he impulsively joins without asking questions. But if after nine months he is still sprinting, and has still not asked any questions, then there’s something terribly wrong with him.

When we first went into lockdown in March, it was probably the best course of action because we didn’t know the full extent of the Cofit threat. But in the first 90 days, it was clear to all and sundry that it was never going to rank among Uganda’s top health challenges. And that’s not my opinion.

The Daily Monitor on July 15th quoted Dr Baterana Byarugaba, the Mulago Hospital Executive Director, describing the Cofit strain in the country as a mild form of flu which does not require hospital admission since it can be treated at home or in lower health facilities.
“l told Ugandans right from the beginning that the type of coronavirus we expect in Uganda is the mild one. It can be treated at health centre II, III, IV or the district hospital,” the top Medic said.

I read the story with glorious delight supposing that finally common sense, (or should I say science sense) would inform our decisions as a nation. But it’s difficult to know where science stops and politics starts. It’s become clear over the months that Cofit is not just a virus that causes respiratory problems, it’s a lot more than that; it’s a weapon in the hands of politicians that gives them power beyond their wildest dreams. In America, for instance, Democrat Congressman Jim Clyburn said Cofit is a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our (leftist) vision” while actress and activist Jane Fonda said that Cofit was “God’s gift to the left.”

Our media could have taken the side of poor Ugandans by showing the immense suffering and death from preventable sicknesses that resulted from the harsh Cofit measures; they could have highlighted the plight of businesses permanently closed and workers rendered redundant and sent back to villages. They could have wondered why truck drivers were testing negative in Kenya and positive in Uganda, or wondered why Cofit deaths only started after Prophet Museveni showed us a macabre lineup of coffins in his address, or why every celebrity who dies since then is ruled as Cofit (no autopsy required)

They could have told us that according to Worldometer, Cofit has a 0.28% mortality rate (or a 99.72 survival rate) and that it doesn’t rank anywhere in the Top 10 of Uganda’s health challenges; they could have told us that a child dies of malaria every two minutes (and Uganda accounts for 3% of the world’s malaria fatalities), which means that more Ugandans die from mosquitoes in ten days than Cofit has (allegedly) killed in the nine months it’s been on our lips.

Ugandans (especially of my age) have lived through real pandemics. As a young man growing up in the early 90s, nobody had to remind me that AIDS was real. Goodness me, I knew it was! And I didn’t need police to force me to wear protection, I knew the consequences. The fact that we are constantly being reminded that ‘Cofit is real’ tells a story of its own.

The media could have asked why Uganda, with one of the lowest Cofit cases or deaths, still holds on to a 9:00pm curfew when Kenya moved to 11:00pm in September, as did South Africa and several countries. The media could have told us that Malawi, Burundi, Tanzania and, recently, Ghana all held successful elections with full blown campaigns in 2020, and we aren’t hearing people dropping dead from Cofit in any of those countries. May be they should have tried to find out if people are dropping dead in Tanzania which altogether ignored all Cofit measures and went on to acquire middle-income status while Ugandans were still in lockdown.

They could have told us about the asymptomatic Cofit patients who were filmed dancing the night away in hospital wards, or of people suffering from other diseases who dare not go to hospital because they fear to be given a fake Cofit label and held for two weeks against their will.

The media could have told us that Cofit deaths across the world have been grossly inflated. Minnesota lawmakers say Cofit deaths could have been inflated by 40% after examining death certificates (according to The Washington Examiner) while Fox News reported that in Colorado 45% of Cofit corpses “were also found to have bullet wounds”.

They could have told us that 22 European countries, all of which had tens of thousands of Cofit deaths, opened their schools in the fall, and there has not been any reported spikes in cases as a result. They could have told us that more people have been killed by security men enforcing Cofit measures than by the virus itself.

Well, they could have…but they didn’t. And that’s where they slipped.

Instead they chose to go down the path of alarmist reporting and in so doing became, inadvertently or otherwise, enablers of Uganda’s trillion-shilling Cofit enterprise. Like Squealer in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the media used flowery language to drum up fear by keeping people’s eyes transfixed on swelling numbers while the thieves carried their loot and stashed it away, and loan money was distributed among family members or used in regime prolongation.

The recent joint television news bulletin, and the adverts that followed, were the peak of hysterical reporting. “Zuukuka Tusaanawo” (wake up, we are perishing) screamed an advert featuring top media personalities. What a load of……(fill in appropriate word).

Remember, all the tyranny we have witnessed in this season has been done in the name of Cofit, and such sensationalist reporting justifies it; it gives dictators like Museveni the perfect pseudo-moralistic cover to unleash their most despotic fantasies while actually pretending that it’s for the good of the people. Unfortunately, the terror has now spread to the very media people whose hyperbole enabled it in the first place. There is such a thing as the law of cause and consequence, after all.

Instead of the media walking out of pressers and threatening to boycott government functions, let them threaten to stop all Cofit reporting. Museveni himself would come running with chocolate in hand.

If the president extended curfew by just two hours, for instance, he will have put as many as 200,000 Ugandans back to work especially in the hotel, restaurant and entertainment industries; but he doesn’t care, and sadly neither do many middleclass Ugandans who suppose that it’s their moral obligation as responsible citizens of the Global Village to fret over Cofit just because their ‘fellow citizens’ in Europe and America are doing so. Of course they can afford to do that because their corporate jobs have, for the most part, insulated them from the devastation of the government-instituted Cofit measures. They can enjoy working at home, beer in hand, as they listen to CNN and BBC and still expect the full complement of their salaries at the month end, and that makes them feel every bit like ‘their brothers’ overseas.

Such aspirational conformists are more likely to be offended by my stance on Cofit because they haven’t traversed crook and creek of this country and seen the damage reigned on this fragile society; not by the virus, but by the measures supposedly instituted to mitigate it.

You see, perhaps the most enduring damage this regime has done to our society is creating a three-part hierarchy of class and needs. At the zenith are a handful of connected ‘1986 generation’ and their families who feel entitled to all power and wealth. Beneath is a small (and shrinking) middleclass, and at the bottom of the pyramid is a mass of peasants. Every society, to various degrees, is ordered in the same fashion, but what makes Uganda unique is that the megalomaniacs at the top don’t give a nickel about the plight of the middleclass and the middleclass in turn don’t care a bit about the quandary of the peasant. The charlatans at the top will impose punitive taxes on the middleclass, then dip into NSSF coffers at a whim to share out their savings, and no one can stop them.

And the middleclass Ugandan, armed with his medical insurance, and safe in the knowledge that his wife is unlikely to die in child birth (20 Ugandans do EVERY DAY), and his children are very unlikely to die of malaria (20 do EVERY DAY), or from malnutrition (thousands do every year), will go around trumpeting Cofit because it’s more relevant to his status than malnutrition or malaria.

I could just as easily go down that path. I could also close my eyes to mothers failing to get breast milk because they can only afford half a meal a day (black tea with a piece of cassava), and the malnourished babies that emerge as a result; I could close my eyes to the teenage girls that were given out in marriage because schools closed, or those given out to meet family needs; I could ignore the fact that our president is opening 5-star markets in cities which have 1-star referral hospitals; I could also choose to look the other way and enjoy my middleclass lifestyle, but as an aspiring leader, I cannot.

As a leader, my aspiration is to remove the privileged/entitled class, to expand the middleclass (and their income), and to shrink the peasantry; but mostly to blur the lines that separate each category.
It doesn’t bode well for our country if the average Corporate Ugandan knows more about racism in America than about extreme poverty in Teso or Busoga because that disqualifies him/her from the solution to those local problems.

And finally, I have come to the realization that the biggest pandemic afflicting our country is poverty and the virus that causes it is called M7-1986. Vaccination against it is January 14

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Muntu Blocked in Kamwenge



Alliance for National Transformation presidential candidate Gen. Mugisha Muntu has been blocked from campaigning in Kamwenge according to a statement he released earlier today.Below is the full statement:

Today in Kamwenge, as we have done since the start of the campaign season, we headed out to speak with the people. We had earlier in the week agreed on the venue with security agencies. No one had anticipated that it would rain as much as it did, making it impossible for us or the people to access.

After identifying an alternative place only 100m away from the original venue, negotiating with the owner and communicating the same to the public, we headed to the second venue only to be stopped by police.

Our policy has always been to do all we can to be reasonable, even in the face of unreasonable action on the part of the state. We engaged the police leadership in a civilized, respectable manner well knowing that they intended to not only frustrate us, but cause us to act in ways that would give them an excuse to cause chaos. This was on top of their intimidating the radio we had booked and duly paid to appear on.

While we are confident that we are on the right side of both the law and reason, we have chosen not to endanger the lives of our supporters or the general public by escalating the situation. We will do everything humanly possible to avoid a single life being lost or blood being shed on account of our campaign.

And yet this truth remains: the regime’s days are numbered.



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