Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Arlen Dumas says that NDP MP Niki Ashton is playing politics with COVID-19 and issued a response to her call for military help.
“This open letter and comments by Niki Ashton to the media is for political optics. Ms. Ashton did not reach out to First Nation leadership before sensationalizing the issue of hospital closures and need for emergency staffing,” the statement reads.
Dumas also wrote AMC is concerned with the long-standing inequalities and insufficient investments in health that put First Nations at a higher risk for more severe outbreaks and outcomes.
“We require long term investment and solutions that are First Nation driven. The call for military support disrespects the efforts taken to date by First Nation leadership, the First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team and health leaders in our First Nations.”
Ashton couldn’t be reached for comment.
According to the Manitoba government as of Jan. 12, the northern health region has just over 1,500 active cases with 27 hospitalizations. That includes both First Nation and non-First Nation communities.
Since the beginning of the pandemic out of 23,609 total cases, 9,762 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded among First Nations people in the northern health region.
Ashton issued an open letter on Jan. 7 calling for the military to help First Nations in northern Manitoba that are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases.
“Remote and isolated communities like Manto Sipi Cree Nation require particular support. This includes bringing the military back to ensure communities are able to function and limit the spread of Covid-19. Lives are on the line,” she said in the letter.
Ashton said the military could assist communities with things like running checkpoints, food delivery and more nurses for checkups and vaccines.
At least 10 First Nations in northern Manitoba have put travel restrictions and/or lock downs in place, including Pimicikamak Cree Nation, Manto Sipi Cree Nation among others. Some have even declared a state of emergency.
Something the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), which represents 26 First Nation communities in the north, expressed concern over.
“We know surge supports are not as robust as they were in earlier waves. It is important for MKO to ensure our communities have access to supports, however, we understand this may be a significant challenge with an overwhelmed health care system,” said MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee in a statement.
Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) wrote they are continuing to work closely with Manitoba First Nation communities, regional health authorities, and the province to manage cases of Covid-19 through support planning and preparedness and response activities.
“The Government Operations Centre continuously engages with federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous partners to ensure they are ready to respond, should federal assistance be required,” an ISC spokesperson said in an email.
Also, something leaders are keeping an eye on is the closure of the Leaf Rapids medical centre in Northern Manitoba. The small-town medical centre served as the only hospital within at least 100 kilometres of the community, and many MKO citizens live in or use the facility.