Magnetawan First Nation declared COVID-free but chief wants vaccine ASAP

·4 min read

The Magnetawan First Nation, north of Parry Sound, was recently declared COVID-free, but the territory’s chief said he really wants to see the vaccine given to his community members as soon as possible.

Chief William Diabo said that the Magnetawan First Nation was declared free of the coronavirus on New Year’s Eve. Nine members had been diagnosed with COVID-19 during December and all recovered, the last one being declared free of the virus and out of isolation on Dec. 31. That number represents almost 10 per cent of the community’s population of about 115 residents.

Diabo had imposed a voluntary lockdown and a state of emergency when the virus first hit the territory in December. He said those orders have been lifted; however, he added that the territory is now covered by the Ontario-wide, province-imposed state of emergency and the restrictions that come with it, including a stay-at-home order.

Diabo said that he is expecting a COVID vaccine rollout in the territory in the coming weeks. But he added that he understands they will have to wait their turn as front-line health-care workers, and residents of seniors’ residences, are vaccinated first. He added that he is still frustrated by some community members who are refusing the follow the COVID protocols.

“I have a couple of people on my First Nation who are still not complying. One of them posted the damn thing on social media during the lockdown that they were having a gathering with people from four other households who were coming for breakfast over the holidays,” Diabo said. “That’s the worst thing, when you are a small community of 50 homes. You are best to stay in your own home. Don’t go to someone else’s — don’t let them come to yours.”

Diabo said he is also frustrated by what he thinks is a lack of will by some police services to enforce the lockdown on First Nations territories. He said there are jurisdictional issues whereby he feels OPP and RCMP are reluctant to come onto the territory to issue tickets. The chief added that even if a person gets a ticket for having too many people in their home, there are no measures in place to keep them from repeating the infraction.

As far as the vaccine rollout is concerned, Diabo believes Indigenous communities should follow seniors’ homes on the priority list.

“That’s what I’ve been told. It’s a matter of getting the vaccine distributed. It’ll happen — I hope no later than the end of February but I hope sooner than that,” Diabo said.

He added that the pace at which the vaccine is being rolled out is a concern, but he said that only when, and if, it appears the territory is not being given the priority it was promised will he begin to kick up dust and complain to officials. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in December that Indigenous communities would be given priority for vaccination after front-line health-care workers and other vulnerable people, including seniors.

In an email, Parry Sound Muskoka MPP Norm Miller said he can understand the concerns of Indigenous leaders like Diabo.

“Adults in First Nations, Métis, and Inuit populations where infections can have disproportionate consequences, including those living in remote or isolated areas, will be among the first to be offered the COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks,” Miller stated. “Given the previous case numbers in certain First Nation communities within the riding, I agree actions need to be taken as quickly as possible, and I have shared these concerns with the ministry. It is an unfortunate reality that the vaccine is now a finite resource which is why it is important to prioritize high risk areas first. I will continue to advocate on behalf of all high-risk populations in Parry Sound-Muskoka as we move forward.”

John McFadden is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Indigenous issues for MuskokaRegion.com, ParrySound.com and Simcoe.com. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

John McFadden, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Parry Sound North Star