COVID crisis has Bearskin Lake at breaking point: Chief

About half the community’s 400 members are infected with the Omicron variant.


The chief of a northern Ontario First Nation says his members are simply worn out after dealing with a COVID-19 crisis that has been ravaging the community since late December.

“We’re almost at the breaking point,” Lefty Kamenawatamin says. “People are exhausted – emotionally and physically. We have close to 30 frontline workers doing everything from grocery shopping, hauling water, wood and everything that needs to be done in the community.”

About half the community’s 400 members are infected with the Omicron variant, he said.

Kamenawatamin has asked the federal government for a number of supports, including military assistance, but community leaders say Ottawa is not stepping up.

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) has given Bearskin Lake about $1.2 million in financial aid since the crisis began but former Nishnawbe-Aski Nation grand chief and community member Charles Fox says this isn’t nearly enough.

A charter

“It costs $25,000 to send in a charter with 16 personnel,” he says. “The estimate that we had is that we would need about $1 million in charters alone to address getting personnel in here.

“We’re not talking about groceries, were not talking about water that needs to be sent in, we’re not talking about all the supplies related to medical.”

ISC Minister Patty Hajdu says the government is looking into the community’s request for 40 military personnel but if and when these soldiers arrive remains uncertain.

In the meantime, Fox has a message for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

“Truth and reconciliation, where is it? The truth is we’re in crisis and there’s no federal response. Why is there no federal response? Can you please look into your hearts in terms of why you’re not responding to our crisis?”

The First Nation is located about 600 km north of Thunder Bay.

Fraser spent the last 20 years working in both print and radio in Saskatchewan – mostly in the northern part of the province. Before joining APTN’s Ottawa bureau, he was news director for the Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation working out of their Prince Albert office. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Carleton University and a diploma of journalism from Algonquin College.