First Nations sound alarm over Keeyask outbreak

·3 min read

Concerned Manitoba First Nation leaders held a virtual press conference on Wednesday to discuss the outbreak of COVID-19 at the Keeyask construction site in Northern Manitoba, including members of nearby Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Fox Lake Cree Nation, War Lake First Nation, and York Factory Cree Nation.

The first case of COVID-19 at the site was confirmed on October 22. Organizations have been told that there are 31 positive cases in the area. Fifty-nine workers are now isolating in special dorm rooms at the Keeyask site.

“Fundamentally, we want to protect our people, Elders and children. I would be remiss if I didn’t connect the outbreak we are experiencing in all our surrounding communities in the north to this outbreak,” said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC).

“It is terrible that the negligence of Manitoba Hydro has caused further complications and put an exceptional strain on our health care system.”

Last Friday and this past Monday, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc., AMC and the four First Nations met with Manitoba Hydro’s CEO and staff as well as public health officials. The First Nations wanted to know how Manitoba Hydro plans to contain the outbreak as well as the exact number of workers who have left the Keeyask site since October 20.

From these meetings, the organizations and First Nations concluded that Manitoba Hydro has no plan to address the uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak at the site.

“Now our worst fears have come true and we need the Government of Canada to step in and help us ensure First Nations people will be kept safe from the uncontrolled epidemic being allowed to continue at this Manitoba Hydro site,” said Chief Doreen Spence, Tataskweyak Cree Nation.

“We need to ensure that we reduce the spread of the virus and eliminate any further spread outside the Keeyask. We have been meeting with our pandemic team, and we are very concerned about our members in the Keeyask,” said Chief Betsy Kennedy, War Lake First Nation.

No less than two people who tested positive had left the site. Contract tracing has identified that the virus has moved to two more health regions as well as to the Northern health region.

“We are not getting any true, accurate information from Manitoba Hydro. Information that we get is very vague and not transparent. It puts us in a tough spot,” said Chief Morris Beardy, Fox Lake Cree Nation.

“Manitoba Hydro fails to see this as a serious outbreak. Our doctor advises us that this is an uncontrolled epidemic, but that does not raise any flags in regards to Manitoba Hydro’s decision making. We are now in day six of the outbreak, and still, the camp is in operation,” said Chief Leroy Constant, York Factory First Nation.

Constant added that the First Nations have been asking for the camp to shut down for the safety of all Manitobans, however, their request has fallen into deaf ears.

“We have and continue to engage daily with our partners and neighbouring communities, including supporting their individual pandemic response plans, and provide updates on the situation as new information becomes available,” said Hydro's media relations officer Bruce Owen.

“The statement that we have not been open and transparent with information being communicated to our Keeyask Cree Nation partners is patently false.”

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun