Chief of Manitoba First Nation hit with COVID-19 calls for military to step in

WINNIPEG — A Manitoba First Nation is calling for military aid as COVID-19 continues to surge in the community.

Shamattawa First Nation is an isolated community near the northern tip of Manitoba with a population of a little more than 1,000 people, but that hasn’t stopped COVID-19 from finding its way there.

“We reported our first case of COVID-19 a couple weeks ago,” said Eric Redhead, Chief of Shamattawa First Nation. “As of last night, the report I got (said) we have 69 cases.”

Redhead said Indigenous Services Canada sent rapid response teams to help fight the virus.

They’ve been delivering PPE to every household in the community and food hampers, so residents don’t have to leave their home.

But Redhead said the community and the response team are stretched thin, and they need more help.

“In order to really get a grasp on this, we need the military’s medical expertise, their field hospitals, their temporary structures to help our members safely self-isolate,” he said.

Redhead said Shamattawa has a housing crisis, and many homes in the community house large groups of people.

“People aren’t able to stay 6 feet apart in their homes,” said Redhead.

“If one individual in the home is supposed to isolate, well, you can’t do that if you have 13 to 15 people in a four-bedroom home, it’s just not possible.”

Niki Ashton, the MP for Churchill – Keewatinook Aski, wrote a letter to the Minister of Defense supporting Shamattawa First Nation’s plea for military aid.

She said the current Federal response is not enough.

“Resources from Indigenous Services and others may be overstretched. We know the military has incredible capabilities and the ability to deal with urgent situations like this one,” said Ashton.

Recently, the Canadian Armed Forces were in Opaskwayak Cree Nation to stabilize an outbreak in the community.

Ashton praised them for their help but said we need more.

“Shamattawa needs that kind of help right now, and really this is a matter of life and death given how vulnerable Shamattawa is.”

In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada said:

“The health and safety of Indigenous peoples is our highest priority.”

“Shamattawa First Nation has been in contact with Indigenous Services Canada regarding their concerns around enforcing public health orders in their community. Steps are being taken to use regionally-available resources to support the security needs that have been identified by the Chief and Council.”

Redhead said Canadian Armed Forces can deploy anywhere in the world, and he’s asking them to deploy in Canada to help its own citizens.

“Sixty-nine doesn’t sound like a lot of cases, but in a community this size, it’s huge,” he said. 

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