‘Race against the clock’ to protect vulnerable First Nations from COVID-19

COVID-19 is known to be more harmful to the elderly and people that are immunocompromised and have chronic illnesses, which is more prevalent on-reserve.

“It’s a race against the clock,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus of protecting vulnerable First Nations, particularly in his riding of Timmins-James Bay that includes Attawapiskat.

“If COVID-19 hits it’s going to hit hard and we’re scrambling to put basic supports in place.”

The Trudeau government announced billions in emergency funding Wednesday to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, including $305 million for Indigenous communities.

“Is it enough?” said MP Gary Vidal, Conservative shadow minister for Indigenous Services.

“I think we have to kind of play this out and see how each individual community reacts to the needs that arise.”

Details of the funding, particularly how it will be made available, is still unclear with Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller saying Thursday more information is expected Friday as the pandemic is fluid and changing nearly by the hour.

What is known is the money isn’t expected to be available until April as the House of Commons needs to resume to pass necessary legislation.

Miller, himself, has been speaking to Indigenous leaders across the country all week according to his office.

While Angus praises the recent funding commitments he had been expressing his frustration with the feds because Canada has known for weeks this virus would inevitably arrive.

“We’ve lost a lot of time,” he said. “Can we make this up?”

Angus is hopeful considering the medical response task team put together by Nishnawbe Aski Nation, an advocacy group representing 49 First Nations in northern Ontario, that includes Jane Philpott, the former minister of ISC, Dr. Michael Kirlew and Mae Katt, a nurse practitioner. Both Kirlew and Katt are known for their work in the region.

“What they are scrambling to do is put plans and supports in place. There are a lot of variable and a lot of unknowns,” said Angus.

It’s not just in northern Ontario where there are substandard or third-world  healthcare but across northern Canada.

“When you get to the far North the shortfalls are magnified a thousand times,” said Angus.

Two of the people responsible for making sure First Nations get the support they need is Dr. Tom Wong, chief medical officer of public health at Indigenous Services, as well as Valerie Gideon, senior assistant deputy minister in the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.

Both joined Nation to Nation Thursday and their interview can be viewed below.

N2N.ca