Bearskin Lake First Nation struggling with COVID-19 outbreak, says isolating chief


More than half of the members of Bearskin Lake First Nation have tested positive for COVID-19.

That includes the chief of the 40-member community about 600 km north of Thunder Bay, Ont.

“I don’t have a medical driver, a medical vehicle, or a person answering the phone that’s constantly ringing at the nursing station,” said Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin.

“The workers are sick. And, at the band office, I don’t have a secretary because they’re positive.”

The fly-in First Nation with fewer than 400 people has declared a state of emergency and gone into lockdown.

It has also appealed to the federal government to send in emergency health and military workers, said Kamenawatamin, who is isolating at home after his son tested positive for the infectious virus.

Patty Hajdu, the federal minister for Indigenous Affairs, committed nearly half a million dollars in aid funding for the northwestern Ontario community.

But Kamenawatamin said he doesn’t have personnel to handle the money.

“I only have one finance person working in the band office right now,” he told APTN News. “The finance department is depleted, too. It’s very, very slow.”

However, help has arrived from other First Nations in the form of donations and support.

Big Trout Lake, 60 km to the southeast, sent a team of snowmobilers to deliver supplies on New Year’s Day.

Kamenawatamin said it was a much-needed boost.

“There has been so many communities that have stepped up…It just overwhelms me. It speaks to the compassion the community has in a time of need,” the chief said.

Video Journalist / Thunder Bay

Michelle is a video journalist from rural Manitoba with a Creative Communications Degree from Red River College. Before APTN, Michelle worked as an editor-in-chief for The Projector online publication.