NAN urges federal, provincial governments to respect First Nation pandemic protocols
Mike Lawrence - Staff Writer
Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Derek Fox has called on federal and provincial agencies to continue to respect all community pandemic protocols in place in First Nations communities across NAN territory as the provincial government eases public health restrictions.
As Fox explained in a news release issued on Feb. 17, “While numbers may be in decline in some parts of the province, we continue (to) see extremely high numbers of COVID-19 across our Nation. This virus and its variants remain a serious threat to our people and our communities, with some experiencing their highest numbers since the beginning of the pandemic.” Fox continued, “The move to lift restrictions may be justified based on data from some areas of the province, but this decision does not consider the significant impacts that will be experienced by our communities. Strict protocols have been enacted in many of our communities and will remain in effect at the discretion of local leadership. Our communities are self-governing, and their decisions regarding pandemic restrictions do not have to be made in step with the province. The decisions made by our leaders are final and must be respected by everyone concerned.”
The release goes on to state that there is a current active case count of 651 COVID-19 cases (as of Feb. 17) reported across 25 NAN communities, and five NAN communities are currently under states of emergency, and as such have suspended non-essential and inter-community travel. There is also concern that easing of restrictions will negatively impact NAN community members living in urban areas, as many communities, already taxed by the ongoing pandemic, may find it difficult to offer assistance.
Speaking with Dr. Lloyd Douglas, Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority Public Health Physician, it is clear that at least as far as our region is concerned, there’s still a lot to be done to keep COVID numbers in check.
“Let me just paint a picture...” Douglas begins, before continuing, “Before the Omicron surge, so before the end of December which had that massive outbreak in Bearskin (Lake First Nation) there were about 230 cases. I think that we are approaching a total, now, of 1,500 cases, so we could say that we’ve had over 1,200 cases since this Omicron surge.” While Fort Hope (Eabametoong), Mishkeegogamang, and Pikangikum were recently listed as having outbreaks, Douglas added that “We are starting to see cases drop in Pikangikum, and the case count is coming down now in Mishkeegogamang. However, we are seeing increasing cases in Fort Hope (Eabametoong), and also we are starting to see an uptick in cases in Kasabonika.”
Douglas also stressed the need to use caution in the easing of restrictions across our area.
“Within our region the case counts are still very high. Dr. Kit Young Hoon (Medical Officer of Health, Northwestern Health Unit) has essentially issued more restrictive recommendations than the province. The province did move ahead this morning (Feb. 17) with easing restrictions, but the Northwestern Health Unit is not necessarily following suit, because our situation in the north, especially in regard to the test positivity rates, we’re not seeing the same decline as the rest of the province. So, we ask individuals to be patient with some of the public health measures that are in place.”
Indigenous Services Canada, responding to a request for information on the supports being afforded those communities experiencing outbreaks, responded via email, “Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) is working closely with a number of communities in Ontario to support their response efforts related to Covid-19 outbreaks, including Eabametoong First Nation, Pikangikum First Nation and Mishkeegogamang First Nation. Work to support these communities involves close collaboration with the community leadership, their respective Tribal Councils, the Province, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority and respective local public health units to ensure that these communities receive all necessary supports to manage current COVID-19 cases and to reduce the chances of further spread. ISC meets regularly with the leadership of these communities, along with all health partners to continually reassess the health status of the community members and facilitate supports required to respond to their COVID-19 outbreaks.”
Douglas offered the following reminder, stating, “We need to realize that our (First Nations) communities don’t have the same capacity as other communities. Therefor our approach has to be different, based on the longstanding deficits in health care infrastructure, access to health care, and the health status of the community. There’s just so much that individuals have been dealing with over many, many years and they do need that continued support.”