SCO Grand Chief calls on province, feds to commit and fast-track First Nations COVID-19 response funding

The organization representing First Nations in southern Manitoba is calling on the provincial government to hold itself accountable for its response to the second wave of COVID-19, and to commit more funding to its pandemic response.

“Let me be very clear, our lives are literally on the line,” Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said in a news release Monday. “It is obvious at the provincial level that the pandemic response is beyond inadequate and now our critical care resources are on the verge of collapse.”

COVID-19 cases in Manitoba have skyrocketed over the last several weeks. As of 12:30 p.m. Monday, there are 3,455 known active cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba, including 2,603 — or over 75 per cent — in the Winnipeg health region.

SCO, which represents 34 First Nations and more than 80,000 people in Southern Manitoba, called on the province to better care for its people, First Nations included. In the news release, Daniels said the province should have reactivated its incident command structure before today, as cases have been on the rise for weeks.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re seeing the kind of cases that we’re seeing,” Daniels later told CBC Radio Up To Speed guest host Sam Samson.

“It’s also very unfortunate that First Nations are more susceptible to the hard reality that COVID-19 presents.”

17 Manitoba communities have cases

As of Oct. 31, 26 First Nations communities in Canada that have reported two or more active cases of COVID-19. But 17 of those communities — or roughly two-thirds — are in Manitoba, said a news release issued by SCO on Monday.

As of Monday, there are 679 known active COVID-19 cases among Manitoba First Nations people, including 361 on reserve, according to the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba.

The test positivity rate on First Nations in Manitoba is 11 per cent, and one-quarter of COVID-19 patients currently in Manitoba hospitals are First Nations people, Daniels said.

“There’s a lot of fear,” he said. “Our leaders are working very hard to control traffic, keep people at home, educating our own and doing everything we can.”

Quality of life factors

With regards to race-based COVID-19 data, Daniels says it will shine new light on the systemic issues in health care once the pandemic is over.

“Quality of life factors are going to impact health outcomes. It’s that simple,” he said. “It’s that history, and the institutionalized values that are the foundation of our society, that creates this kind of problem.”

Daniels is unaware of any provincial resources being directed toward Indigenous communities, outside of various restrictions and regulations.

Most resources have come from the federal government, he said. But that process takes time, so many First Nations are developing their own actions to curb the spread.

For example, Peguis First Nation, located about 160 kilometres north of Winnipeg, has instituted three-day shut downs where there is no movement in the community until the fourth day, cited Daniels.

“We’re talking about a very strict lockdown, like really trying to get everybody to do what they need to do on that fourth day,” he said. “But only things that are of necessity — not any social gatherings, none of that kind of stuff happening in the community, or at least not being supported in any way by that by the community leadership.”

Part of SCO’s call to action on Monday includes calling on the federal government to fast-track money it earmarked for First Nations communities.

The Trudeau government announced last Friday that it would be spending $200 million to help First Nations communities in Canada bolster their responses to COVID-19.

SCO needs that money so it can be immediately used to build “critical infrastructure,” including much needed isolation units, it said in its news release.