The federal government’s response to a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected half the members of a First Nation in northern Ontario is disappointing, the chief of the community said on Wednesday.
Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin of Bearskin Lake First Nation said only a few members of the Canadian Armed Forces have been deployed in his community and the federal support offered has not been enough.
“Our community was anxiously waiting for help, and we were comforted by the thought that Canada would step in to provide us with much-needed physical and moral support,” Kamenawatamin said in a statement.
“In the end, however, this help has been minimal.”
He said that the situation is an example of what he called the “dishonesty and neglect” First Nations have been experiencing in their relations with the Canadian government for a long time.
“We are disappointed with Canada’s response,” he said.
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier Wednesday that his government’s response is “extremely present,” including the deployment of Canadian Rangers and paying for workers from neighbouring communities to provide support.
“We’re pleased to see the situation, turning the corner and looking like it’s getting better,” Trudeau said.
“We will continue to be there in that community and in communities around the country as necessary.”
The government said it has provided $1.2 million in funding to the community for food, personal protective equipment and other supplies.
A spokeswoman for federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said earlier this week that four Rangers are in the community to help with logistics and distribute food, water, firewood and care packages.
Annie Cullinan said more Rangers would be sent to the community in the coming days, with the initial deployment set to last until Jan. 23, though it could be extended.
She said the Rangers will also conduct community wellness checks and assist in establishing a local isolation area.
The community has requested the assistance of 40 personnel. The chief said they may need help for up to six weeks.
Bearskin Lake First Nation officials declared an emergency in the community in late December and formally requested federal support in the form of military assistance from Ottawa last week.
A total of 210 people have been infected with COVID-19 in the 400-person fly-in community, which is located about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.