Manitoba chiefs call for state of emergency as COVID-19 pandemic escalates

By | March 17, 2020

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is calling for a state of emergency in 62 First Nations as the COVID-19 situation escalates in the province.

In a news release issued Tuesday afternoon, AMC’s executive council of chiefs called on all First Nations that fall under its jurisdiction to close their borders to all non-essential travel, while ensuring food and supplies are still being delivered.

On Friday, AMC postponed all events until further notice and encouraged its communities to shut down schools.

“With the rapidly escalating COVID-19, the AMC recognizes the fact that First Nations in Manitoba cannot use or apply the ongoing provincial and federal criteria,” Dumas said Tuesday in the news release.

“This is noted with the existing housing crisis on reserve, First Nations in Manitoba do not have the physical housing ability to socially isolate, and have unique infrastructure challenges that requires clear and decisive action for the safety of First Nations citizens, especially elders and youth,” he said.

AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said that to ensure “First Nations are not left behind,” the leadership is establishing a regional COVID-19 pandemic response co-ordination team and centre.

Manitoba public health officials announced seven new cases late Tuesday, which nearly doubles the total number of lab-confirmed and presumptive cases. With 15 positive tests in Manitoba, there are no reported deaths due to COVID-19.

AMC is a political organization representing 62 of the 63 First Nations in Manitoba.

‘Shouldn’t be forgotten’

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said during Tuesday’s daily update on COVID-19 that he raised the issue of marginalized communities in remote areas on a call on Friday with the prime minister and other premiers.

“This issue of northern, not exclusively Indigenous, but northern isolated communities, rural communities is one that sometimes gets forgotten and shouldn’t be forgotten,” Pallister said.

Manitoba Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said he has personally met with many First Nations organizations, and has directed regional health authorities to be in contact with First Nations in their region for a unified response.

As for COVID-19 testing in those communities, Roussin said it could be an option.

“Depending on the comfort level and the services in place, it’s quite possible to do that testing. But that’s going to be up to the community and First Nations health branch on how that’s implemented,” he said.

Southern First Nations

Earlier on Tuesday the Southern Chiefs Organization declared a state of emergency for its 34 First Nations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said it was a “very prudent” step to take given the chronic overcrowding, lack of equitable health care and poor infrastructure in these communities.

SCO says its member First Nations have not received the supplies they need to respond to the pandemic, and also have a shortage of health care staff.

“We need urgent supplies,” Daniels said, to protect people over 65, and those with compromised immune systems and underlying medical conditions.

“People are worried.”

Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said Tuesday that declaring a state of emergency for SCO’s member First Nations was a “very prudent” step to take. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

On Tuesday the federal government agreed to cover the cost of purchasing supplies.

Rural communities located a great distance from health centres are still in trouble, Daniels said.

“It’s not quite responsive in the way it needs to be. We have great concerns around that and we don’t think that proper discretion is being provided or proper support is being provided to those communities that are further away.”

He said SCO has been talking for years about creating a mobile response team and a mobile emergency command centre to address these kinds of scenarios, but that has not come to fruition.

First Nations leaders are considering the possibility of restricting entry into and out of reserves, according to Daniels.

“There was a call to limit travel outside of communities and to try to keep supplies within the communities at a very discretionary approach to bringing in supplies,” he said.

Daniels said he has heard some chiefs are already moving in the direction of enacting travel bans.

“We do have communities who are considering that, but no official announcement has come out in terms of restricting or pushing for travel bans between communities.”

But that could become the reality within a week, he said.

“If communities decide to go in that direction that is completely at their discretion and we would support every single chief who decided to take cautionary measures in order to protect their most vulnerable citizens,” Daniels said.

“Now that we’re here and we have a good understanding of what’s happening and what could potentially happen we need to do everything possible in order to prevent the continued spread,” he said.

Daniels said First Nations are lacking in soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, personal protective equipment, clinical and medical supplies and training. SCO was unable to quantify how many supplies are needed.

“I would rather as a leader be criticized for doing too much than not doing enough to save every single life possible,” he said.

SCO will continue to meet with its chiefs and government officials to monitor the situation.

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