By the time the military arrives, ‘we would be decimated’ says Cree Nation Chief

COVID-19

The Chief of Pimicikamak Cree Nation says he is still waiting for a response to a letter sent to the federal government earlier in the week calling for the Department of Defense to set up a military hospital in his territory.

Chief David Monias says the only response he has received so far was a copy of a link showing the military announcing they are ready to deploy if and when needed.

“Again, it will be based on a reaction to a crisis and by that time, we would be decimated and would only be quarantining us when we get sick,” says Monias.

“They don’t get the point of the letter and that is to take a proactive initiative prior to this covid-19 occurring in our community,” he said.

The Cree Nation, located 520 air kilometres north of Winnipeg has been taking its own actions to try to prevent COVID-19 from showing up in the Nation that is home to roughly 9,000 band members.

A community lockdown went into effect on March 30.

Monias and Norway House Cree Nation Chief Larson Anderson penned the letter to the Harjit Sajjan, minister of National Defence, Marc Miller, minister of Indigenous Services and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In it, they wrote “under normal circumstances, the 15000 plus members between the two communities are hard pressed to receive adequate Health care services. In the current climate and state of emergency called by Manitoba and our Nations, due to Covid-19, it is apparent to our leadership that it is not a matter of “if”, but a matter of “when”.

The letter called for a military hospital to be set up within the territory to provide “much needed emergency medical infrastructure to our citizens and band members” and to provide “health services such as testing, quarantining, and housing or medivacing First Nation people who are affected by Covid-19.”

Pimicikamak only has an aging and outdated nursing station, despite a funding announcement for a brand new, state of the art hospital in July, 2016.

That’s when PCN found itself under a different state of emergency.

That declaration came amid a suicide crisis in the community.

Then minister of Health Jane Philpott came to Pimicikamak territory to announces tens of millions of dollars for a new state of the art hospital, something the Nation had been calling for, for decades.

Speaking to APTN News at the announcement ceremony for the hospital, Philpott says a the time “we’re delighted that now moving forward, there will be a new state of the art facility. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for that here and it comes at a time when there is a great need.”

It was anticipated the hospital would take four years to complete but to date, ground has yet to be broken.

“Construction has not started yet and we are still waiting for infrastructure funding for the Health centre,” says Monias.

“The 55 million is for the construction of the state of art building but no funding is committed by Canada for water and sewer or ditches and road access,” Monias says, adding there is no money for the medical supplies or for retrofitting the hospital with technology and communication infrastructure.

“I am very disappointed because it always comes down to piecemeal funding and ISC basically circumvented their responsibility for the infrastructure funding piece,” says Monias who believes “if this is a capital project off-reserve then it would have one funding source and completed but we have to deal with internal jurisdictional disputes between federal government departments.”

When asked about it earlier in the week, Philpott says she is obviously no longer privy to the information but that “certainly, it was the understanding of the community at the time that things would have been further along at the time and I think they have legitimate reasons to try to get information on what’s going on there.”

APTN had yet to receive a response from ISC on questions about the hospital and the ask for the military assistance.

Monias says he is going to be sending a second letter to the minister of defence.

According to a message sent out by General Jonathan Vance, head of the Canadian Armed Forces to members of the military on Friday, the force has “already responded to a number of requests for assistance.”

Vance also says that members have be supplied with personal protective equipment and trained how to use it before they are deployed.

The government also announced Friday that it is deploying members of the Canadian Rangers to Nunavik in sub-Arctic Quebec to help contain the spread of COVID-19 in the 14 Inuit communities.

Host/Producer - Winnipeg

Dennis is Metis from southern Manitoba. After spending a decade working in TV in Alberta and Ontario, Dennis returned to Manitoba to join APTN’s Winnipeg bureau as reporter/correspondent in September 2014. In 2016, he won a Canadian Association of Journalists award for his story A Soldier Scorned for APTN Investigates. In 2017, he became a host/producer for APTN National News and Face to Face. In 2020, Dennis and co host Melissa Ridgen were nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best News Anchor, National.