Manitoba First Nations stepped up to tackle COVID-19 since first confirmed case a year ago

·3 min read

First Nations have stepped up tremendously since the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 was confirmed by Manitoba a year ago.

Through many challenges and hardships, First Nation communities and organizations have tried their best to support and advocate for Manitoba First Nation citizens.

“One year ago, we didn’t know much about the COVID-19 virus,” said Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee in a press release.

“We had shared a message encouraging First Nations citizens, saying that the risk of contracting COVID-19 in Northern Manitoba was low but increasing. We started promoting public health measures such as washing your hands thoroughly on a regular basis.”

For six months, Northern Manitoba successfully kept the virus away from their communities. However, in September of last year, the Northern Health Region saw its first case.

“One year into the pandemic, and we have witnessed multiple MKO communities successfully respond to outbreaks of the COVID-19 virus in their First Nations. I commend the leadership for their strength and devotion to keeping their communities safe,” said Settee.

Many Indigenous leaders have taken the reins to provide strong leadership throughout the pandemic. For instance, Lake Manitoba First Nation Chief Cornell Mclean and his council took immediate action as soon as they heard about the virus.

When it came to the pandemic response, Lake Manitoba First Nation experienced complete community buy-in with its vaccine safety awareness campaign and its strategy to deliver freezers filled with meat packs for every Elder in the community.

Other communities like Brokenhead Ojibway Nation reported zero COVID-19 deaths due to the efforts of Health Director Aleisha Desjarlais and other community members.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, there have been 10,419 COVID-19 cases on-reserve and off-reserve as of Thursday. First Nations recorded 16% of all deaths in the province.

“Today, we mourn the loss of 150 First Nation citizens, and grieve with their families and loved ones,” said Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO).

“Those families are feeling the losses today and every day, robbed by the virus of the chance to say their good-byes. We honour those lives, and all the health professionals who risked their lives to try to save them.”

Leadership from First Nations have previously mentioned that many factors contribute to the rising number of cases in First Nations including the ongoing impact of colonization, systemic racism and economic apartheid resulting in overcrowding housing, poor water quality, food insecurity and limited health services.

Earlier this year, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister blamed Indigenous leaders for the increasing case numbers seen in First Nations in Manitoba. First Nation leaders like Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson ignored the premier’s disparaging comments and instead provided advice to effectively curb the spread of COVID-19.

“You can maintain control when you do contact tracing and monitor cases and monitor individuals coming and going. When you implement checkpoints and curfews, you can keep your numbers very low,” said Hudson.

“By training our frontline nurses, health and safety workers to run tests in our facility, collecting these samples… we will gain a valuable ground in fighting this pandemic.”

First Nations are beginning to take a step towards self-determination by locking down their borders and incorporating check stops for those coming in and out of the community. This is only the first of what they could achieve as a Nation in the long run.

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