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Pandemic at the End of the World shares elder’s wisdom on surviving COVID-19

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the lives of many. Many have died. Pandemics on the kind of scale seen with COVID-19 seem like a rarity. But they are all too common for the people of Kitigaaruk.

The small northern community in the Inuvialuit Region, lying on the coast of the Mackenzie River Delta, has seen several pandemics within the last hundred years.

In the early 19th century John Franklin and his crew infected the locals with deadly smallpox. The Spanish Flu would arrive via a different group of settlers less than a hundred years later.

A headshot of director Allan Code. Photo supplied.

According to Randal Pokiak, an Inuvialuit elder and historian, the community was losing a battle with death.

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“The people were presented with an awful choice – the most extreme social distancing you can imagine,” said Allan Code, the director of Pandemic at the End of the World. 

“It was, ‘Don’t even say goodbye. You just have to walk away, take what you need for survival, and walk away.’ That’s how the survivors survived.”

Pokiak’s return to the now abandoned Kitigaaruk was documented by Code in his new film, Pandemic at the End of the World, being shown at the Yellowknife International Film Festival.

The story of those past pandemics are told through several interviews with Pontiak – and footage shot for Arctic Secrets, another series Code worked on – as he recounts the history of Kitigaaruk’s hard history. 

“He was a guy who bridged the gap between history and the present day,” said Code. “We look at a place where the oral tradition is really, really important. We’ve lost so many elders that were in touch with that tradition.”

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But even the loss of one more elder because of this virus is a serious setback, to the revitalization of language and culture.”

The film also serves as a kind of warning against behaviours that can exacerbate pandemics like COVID-19. Code said it was challenging to jump through almost two hundred years of history in a short, 13 minute film. But he said the key was taking Pokiak’s wisdom, and applying to today.

“History is almost a dirty word on television,” said Code. “These days, you hardly ever hear anything about real history.”

“The danger is, cultural memory being what it is, and our loss of elders, they might be starting to forget,” he added. “Our job was to amplify – artistically and every other way – to amplify what Randall had to say.”

We need to heighten our vigilance and, and listen to our elders.”

The film is attributed to Pokiak, who died in August of a stroke and pneumonia without ever seeing the film, said Code.


The film is being shown for free online throughout the Yellowknife International Film Festival, running November 4 to 8.

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