December 13, 2020
Treaty 1 Territory, Winnipeg MB—As the Pallister government continues to pass the buck on COVID-19 outbreaks in Manitoba’s First Nation communities, NDP MLA for Keewatinook and Critic for Indigenous Relations Ian Bushie urged the Canadian government to immediately approve military support to keep families safe and strengthen response systems.
“Every Indigenous Manitoban has the right to high quality health care and pandemic supports. Sadly, it’s become very clear that First Nations cannot rely on Premier Pallister to support them through this crisis. Rather than do the right thing and put jurisdictional questions aside to act quickly on behalf of Indigenous families, he has tried to avoid responsibility and sow division in our province,” said Bushie. “His lack of action has exacerbated a dangerous situation in communities. Now, we have no choice but to ask the federal government to step in.”
In a letter to Federal Minister for Indigenous Services Marc Miller, Bushie made a formal request for an immediate assessment of each communities’ needs by the Canadian military, in collaboration with the local leadership and health officials. He urged the Minister to work with the military to design a support plan that shores up health care, emergency services and housing resources.
Manitoba’s First Nations communities have seen an alarming surge in cases in the last few weeks. In late November, after local leadership made a formal request to Minister Miller and National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, the Canadian military entered Opaskwayak Cree Nation to assess and stabilize an outbreak in their personal care home. Less than three weeks later, the outbreak was declared over and staff were able to resume normal operations.
Bushie noted that while the number of active cases and isolations vary throughout First Nations, a chronic lack of infrastructure and health care supports mean there is high potential for a serious and uncontrollable outbreak.
“We’ve seen what can happen when military supports are marshalled quickly and community leadership is kept in the loop,” said Bushie. “I am confident that just as the assessment in Shamattawa First Nation showed, there is an immediate need for additional medical personnel, isolation units and field hospitals in our communities. Where the Pallister government has failed the federal government must step in. First Nation communities need help now.”