Parry Sound MPP Norm Miller heaps praise on Indigenous people for keeping COVID at bay

·3 min read

The MPP for Parry Sound-Muskoka is pleased and proud about how well Indigenous people in his riding have handled and continue to handle the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Norm Miller said the relatively low numbers of positive COVID tests on First Nations territories in Parry Sound Muskoka are a testament to how seriously Indigenous people have taken the coronavirus and how well they have followed the COVID safety protocols.

The Magnetawan First Nation, north of Parry Sound, was hardest hit, reporting nine residents with COVID late last year and early this year. All of those people have since recovered. There were three cases reported on the Wahta First Nation in Muskoka in January but again, all of those people have recovered. Those are the only COVID cases reported on the First Nations territories Miller represents.

“I want to give credit on the Parry Sound side to the West Parry Sound Health Centre and its whole team which has done really good job. They’ve reached out to all the nursing stations in the region and the nurse practitioners in these communities. Those nurse practitioners have partnered with their health unit and have done a good job,” Miller said in a telephone interview.

He said he was pleased to see COVID vaccination clinics held earlier this month on Wahta First Nation where a 103-year-old elder was among those vaccinated, as well as on Moose Deer Point First Nation. He is also encouraged to know clinics are now being held on First Nations territories on the western side of his riding, as well.

Miller explained why Muskoka First Nations received their vaccines first.

“Because Simcoe and Muskoka had higher numbers of COVID cases, mainly down in the southern part, they got more vaccinations. That’s been the difference between the two health units in terms of where they are with vaccinations," Miller said. "It’s the supply of vaccines that has been the biggest factor. We could be way further ahead if we had the vaccines but I am optimistic everyone will be vaccinated before the summer.”

There are two health units in Miller's riding, North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit and Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit.

He acknowledged the frustration among some Indigenous people in his riding over the length of time it is taking for the vaccine to reach them.

Miller said the pandemic has also been a challenge for organizations that help Indigenous women and families like the Esprit Place Family Resource Centre in Parry Sound, which also houses an emergency women’s shelter. It serves both Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients.

“You can’t have as many people at Esprit Place during COVID times because you can’t be in close proximity to others. That limits how many people you can look after. That’s part of the reason that Parry Sound district received $950,000 in provincial funding last month to try to provide more social supports,” Miller said.

Esprit Place spokesperson J.J. Blower agreed COVID has brought challenges to the facility. But she wanted anyone needing help to know they remain open and staffed and are more than willing to offer any assistance to those who need it.

“In 2020, roughly 30 per cent of the women using our shelter identified as Indigenous. That was down from 40 per cent the year before. The shelter is for any women fleeing violence and abuse. Our capacity has been limited by COVID. We have gone from a 10-bed shelter to a five-bed shelter,” Blower said during a phone interview. “But no women are ever turned away. We can use hotels if needed and if it’s safe for the women to do so.

Blower encouraged anyone who is suffering abuse in the Parry Sound area to call their crisis line at 1-800-461-1707.

John McFadden is a Local Journalism Reporter with the Parry Sound North Star, MuskokaRegion.com and Simcoe.com. LJI is funded by the Government of Canada

John McFadden, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com