First Nations in Quebec implement stricter public health measures as COVID-19 cases climb

·3 min read

Several First Nations across Quebec are implementing stricter public health measures as the number of cases of COVID-19 climbed in their communities over the holidays.

"It's not the fact that there are new cases that are bothersome, to me, it's the amount of contacts that there are for these cases," said Lisa Westaway, a member of Kahnawake's COVID-19 task force.

Kahnawake, a Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community south of Montreal, reported nine active cases Monday including two staff members at its elders lodge.

According to the latest data from Indigenous Services Canada, there have been a total of 247 cases of COVID-19 in First Nations across the province since Jan. 2, with over 70 of those cases being reported in the last two weeks.

Kahnawake's task force shut down non-essential businesses until Jan. 31 as a preventative measure to limit the spread of the virus following holiday gatherings.

"It's unfortunate but it's not unexpected," said Westaway of the new cases.

"The more people are staying home, the more we're going to be able to curtail it from going any further."

Vaccination campaigns begin

Over 100 health-care workers in Kahnawake have received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, while long-term care residents in the community will begin receiving the Moderna vaccine this week.

Opitciwan, an Atikamekw community in the Mauricie region of Quebec, received a shipment of the Moderna vaccine by helicopter on Sunday, and began a vaccination campaign Monday. Chief Jean-Claude Méquish was the first to be vaccinated.

Martine Awashish/Facebook
Martine Awashish/Facebook

The First Nation is currently dealing with 75 active cases of COVID-19 since Jan. 3. Carpooling with other households, and visitors from other Atikamekw and Indigenous communities are banned until further notice as a result of the rise in cases, the Conseil des Atikamekw Opitciwan said in a news release.

Constant Awashish, Grand Chief of the Atikamekw Nation, said Moderna vaccinations will also begin in Wemotaci and Manawan, Que., soon.

"We're very glad that both governments went ahead and thought about us as vulnerable people, and thought about people in our community as having risks of complications. I guess that's a good thing but some people are against [it] from all these historical experiments governments used to do on First Nations," said Awashish.

"People are divided on this but at the same time people are worried about the health situation, about COVID-19. People are just trying to survive."

Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada
Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada

Listuguj implements new measures

Listuguj, a Mi'kmaw community in the Gaspé region of the province, has also closed all non-essential businesses until the end of the month. The community is being asked to limit contact to their household as it deals with 13 active cases of COVID-19, including one hospitalization.

"We're continuing to assess the situation. There's a little bit of concern and anxiety in the community, and we're doing the best to make sure we're on top of it," said Listuguj Mi'gmaq Government Chief Darcy Gray.

Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada
Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada

Gray said the source of the outbreak comes from young people from the community who were studying in a red zone —an area under the highest provincial public health restrictions — and invited a friend to come home with them for the holidays.

It was a violation of community protocols that call for self-isolation after returning from red zones, he said.

"There's a lot of anger and resentment, and I think that's understandable. Our protocols have been good. The measures we've taken have kept everybody safe and we've done a pretty good job for a long time," said Gray.

"On the flip side of that you do have a tremendous outpour of support, encouragement and hope and that's encouraging as well because it's not just about the doom and gloom. It's the importance of being there for each other and supporting one another."