Neskantaga First Nation declares SOE following COVID-19 outbreak among some off-reserve members
Tim Brody - Editor
Neskantaga First Nation declared a State of Emergency (SOE) amongst its members in the entirety of the municipality of the City of Thunder Bay on Feb. 24 after 12 (as of Feb.24) of its off-reserve members tested positive for COVID-19 in Thunder Bay.
Neskantaga First Nation has 217 members living off-reserve. The 12 positive cases represent six per cent of that number.
“With 12 members being positively identified, including one in critical condition at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre—we are deeply troubled by this trend we are seeing among our off-reserve membership,” said Neskantaga First Nation Chief Chris Moonias
In its Declaration of State of Emergency the community outlined that, “this outbreak is disproportionately affecting individuals experiencing homelessness and who are precariously housed” and “Neskantaga First Nation does not have the financial and human resources to deal with this emergency.”
The Declaration of SOE also states that, “Neskantaga urgently requires additional resources to help its members with this outbreak in the city of Thunder Bay.”
The community shared that it is being challenged by a number of issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, including:
• Overcrowded housing which affects the ability to isolate (both for on-reserve and for members in urban areas)
• Homelessness (both for on-reserve and for members in urban areas)
• Inability for homeless to return back to home community during the pandemic due to lack of isolation infrastructure and lack of adequate housing
• Water and infrastructure deficits and disrepair in the community (experienced an evacuation twice within 2 years and it is an ongoing issue which continues to challenge day-to-day life)
• Long standing legacy issues and trauma (creating health and safety, as well as mental health challenges)
• Existing 2013 SOE due to poor living conditions and a high number of suicides
• Poor housing conditions and lack of housing (mold and sub-standard living conditions)
• With a young and growing population the community cannot keep up with housing requirements (needs become greater, Youth require ongoing supports)
• Addictions, mental health and social issues
• Colonialism and experience of racism and discrimination in urban areas
• Lack of internet connectivity affecting ability to access resources on mental health and medical care
The community is calling on Indigenous Services Canada to, “fund emergency housing to accommodate the homeless population who have been forced off-reserve due to a lack of housing, in order to lower their risk of contracting COVID-19 and further support their health and safety.”
The community further outlined in its Declaration of SOE that, “the first acts to alleviate the effects of this emergency extraordinary measures be undertaken to relief the strain on its membership and to properly support its members and Neskantaga First Nation including prioritizing for COVID-19 immunization in the city of Thunder Bay as soon as it is available.”
Also on Feb. 24, Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa issued the following the statement calling on Premier Doug Ford to act right away to help Neskantaga First Nation:
“The COVID outbreak in Thunder Bay is threatening the people of Neskantaga and the region. The Ford government needs to send resources now to stop any further spread into Neskantaga, and among community members in Thunder Bay.
“The Ford government must support the local health unit in Kiiwetinoong and the work of the health unit in Thunder Bay that is trying to contain the virus among the homeless population. Many residents have been forced off-reserve into Thunder Bay because of a lack of housing.
“Neskantaga does not have the resources needed to help its members with this outbreak in the city of Thunder Bay, and need the urgent help of the province now.
“The government must also speed up its vaccine rollout to ensure Thunder Bay shelter residents and staff are prioritized and vaccinated.
“There is no more time for delays.”