First Nations in Yukon, Nova Scotia, grapple with COVID-19

There are 921 active cases of COVID-19 in Indigenous communities across Canada.


As of Dec. 16, data from Indigenous Services Canada states it’s aware of 921 active cases of COVID-19 in First Nations communities.

That includes the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) in Old Crow, Yukon, a fly-in community of 250 people. The community does not have a hospital.

Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm told APTN News there are eight active cases of COVID-19 in Old Crow as of Dec. 16, as well as five presumptive cases.

While the territory has had two confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, Tizya-Tramm says Old Crow’s cases are presumed to be of the Delta variant.

Tizya-Tramm says he’s extremely concerned about the virus, especially when it comes to elders.

“We do have some elders in the community with underlying medical issues,” he says.

“(The virus) could potentially really decimate our traditional knowledge in the community… every elder is a living library.”

Tizya-Tramm says COVID-19 has been in the community before but was limited to three cases. He says this time there appears to be community spread, though cases appear to be mild.

Yesterday a rapid mobile clinic was deployed to the community in partnership with the Yukon government to assess how many cases are in the community.

“This mobile clinic is going to greatly help take a snapshot of what is occurring in our community. It also has a dual effect of calming our community down to a certain degree,” Tizya-Tramm says.

Travel to Old Crow is currently limited to essential only or it has to be approved by council.

VGFN has closed its offices and has put the community under a two-week self-isolation order to contain the spread until the end of next week, though Tizya-Tramm says the order could be extended if cases continue to climb.

Tizya-Tramm says RCMP officers in Old Crow are delivering food and mail to community members by request.

Yesterday the community received 30,000 pounds of cargo from four charter planes containing cleaning and food supplies. The cargo also contained Christmas gifts from Yukon government to help citizens feel better as they’re self-isolating.

Despite his concern, Tizya-Tramm says he’s feeling optimistic, especially as the community has a high vaccination rate of 91 per cent for both doses.

“If our community continues the level of cooperation that we’ve seen, I think we’re going to be okay,” he says.

‘We got this,’ says Nova Scotia chief

Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation in Nova Scotia is also dealing with a concerning number of cases.

Chief Tma Francis says he doesn’t know the exact number of cases, though he notes there’s currently about 25 to 30 cases in the First Nation of 600 people, including himself.

He says he’s thankfully only experiencing mild systems and is self-isolating at home.

“I’m very concerned,” he says.

“Community members are concerned too…It’s scary for some of them.”

Francis says Paqtnkek’s cases are directly linked to an outbreak of almost 200 cases at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish.

The First Nation has implemented a 10 p.m. curfew and only one convenience store is open.

Francis says Paqtnkek staff members and volunteers have gone “above and beyond” to get medicine, food and basic needs to community members.

Francis also wrote a letter to the Strait Regional Centre for Education informing it that Pagtnkek students would not be attending school for the rest of the year out of precaution.

Francis says around 70 per cent of Pagtnkek citizens have received their first dose of vaccine, which is below the provincial rate of 85. 9 per cent. However, he says the increase in cases have resulted in more members getting vaccinated.

“It’s opening people’s eyes and they’re taking it more serious,” he says.

Francis says cases appear to be mild, and he’s hopeful they’ll eventually subside.

“When you look at First Nations people, we’ve been fighting diseases for the last 500 years, so this is just another hurdle for us to jump through. We got this.”

Six Nations in Ontario grappling with cases

Perhaps one of the hardest hit First Nations is the Six Nations of the Grand River in southwestern Ontario, one of the largest First Nations by size in Canada with around 13,000 people living on reserve.

As of Dec. 13, there were 39 active cases in the community, though that has since dropped to 21 active cases.

Two people are currently hospitalized from the virus, and 15 people have died.

The First Nation is also grappling with a low vaccination rate.

Around 48 per cent of the First Nation is fully vaccinated, compared to the provincial rate of around 76 per cent.

Six Nations health leadership did not respond to APTN’s request for comment.

First Nations in Manitoba encouraged to get vaccinated

While Manitoba is grappling with 1,779 active cases, only six cases have been confirmed to be of the Omicron variant.

However, at a COVID-19 press conference on Wednesday, health officials said they suspect the number to grow, especially as the variant has a growth advantage over the Delta variant.

The province is recommending that anyone 18 or older who lives in a First Nations community who has received their second dose on or before July 10 get their third dose of vaccine.

 

Reporter / Whitehorse

Sara Connors is originally from Nova Scotia and has a Journalism degree from the University of King’s College in Halifax. After graduation she worked in South Korea for two years as an English Language teacher and freelance journalist. After she returned home in 2019 she worked behind the scenes at CTV Atlantic in Halifax before joining APTN's Yukon bureau in July 2020.

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