Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs speaks in Ottawa on Thursday, December 7, 2017. Dumas says he’s concerned about the growing number of COVID-19 cases First Nation communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs speaks in Ottawa on Thursday, December 7, 2017. Dumas says he’s concerned about the growing number of COVID-19 cases First Nation communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

‘We are at risk:’ Leadership sounds alarm as COVID-19 cases surge among First Nations

26 Indigenous communities had reported two or more active COVID-19 cases.

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas shook his head in shock when he saw the line indicating new First Nations infections on a chart during the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs most recent COVID-19 meeting.

“Up until today theaverage was usually slightly below the provincial rates, but today is quite alarming,” Dumas said Friday.

Indigenous leaders and health professionals are warning that the second wave of COVID-19 is building

quickly among First Nations on the Prairies.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, reported Friday that 26 Indigenous communities had reported two or more active COVID-19 cases. Seventeen of those were in Manitoba.

A surge of infections in Saskatchewan and Alberta is also affecting reserves. The most recent numbers from Indigenous Services Canada show 116 on-reserve cases in Saskatchewan and 79 in Alberta.

Health officials say numbers shared by Manitoba’s First Nations COVID-19 pandemic response team indicate the impact is worsening. There are 516 active cases involving Indigenous people — 171 of them who live on reserve.

Manitoba’s test positivity among First Nations stands at 11 per cent. It’s 8.6 per cent for the rest of the province.

“Things are going in the wrong direction, and they are going in the wrong direction fairly quickly right now,” said Dr. Michael Routledge, a provincial medical health officer for First Nations and Inuit.

The Manitoba government announced Friday it is tightening restrictions in most of the province after a record-breaking 480 new daily cases. Winnipeg is moving to red status — the highest — under the province’s pandemic response rating. Health officials said the surge has put a strain on health care and some intensive care units are pushing capacity.

Leona Star with the COVID-19 committee said there is significant concern over the numbers of First Nations people in hospital. Of the 104 people hospitalized Friday, 25 were First Nations, seven of them in intensive care.They ranged in age from 16 to 82.

“The curve is going up,” Star warned. “We are seeing a large spike.”

READ MORE: No doubt second wave of COVID-19 will hit Indigenous communities harder: Miller

Also on Friday, Ottawa announced an additional $200 million to fight COVID-19 in Indigenous communities.

Indigenous Services Canada said in a statement to The Canadian Press that the department continues to work with First Nations to respond to the pandemic. That includes providing testing swabs and personal protective equipment.

Spokeswoman Geneviève Guibert added that the department also recognizes the importance and sacred nature of cultural ceremonies. It will respect decisions by chiefs and council on how or whether to hold them, she said.

Many of the infections on reserves have been linked to funerals and religious gatherings. Pimicikamak in northern Manitoba is one of a handful of communities that went into lockdown after members tested positive following a funeral. Chief David Monias posted online that one member who tested positive had to be flown south for medical treatment.

A church gathering in Prince Albert, Sask., also led to multiple positive cases on First Nations throughout the province earlier in October. The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations held an all-denomination prayer on Friday calling for safety and protection for all community members.

“We ask the entire treaty territory to pray for all those living in the shadow of the pandemic, those stricken with the coronavirus, and for the many who have died from COVID-19,” Chief Bobby Cameron said in a statement. “Additionally, pray for protection and good health during the pandemic.”

Dumas said Indigenous leadership in Manitoba has been adapting quickly to the growing numbers of positive cases. He said people want to keep each other safe and healthy.

“We are at risk. We can’t be too lax on our vigilance.”

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Masks are mandatory for passengers on board BC Transit buses and for those waiting at covered bus stops. (BC Transit/Facebook)
Masks now mandatory on BC Transit buses, at covered bus stops

Face shields no longer meet face-covering requirements per updated policy

Rose Ellis, 93, and her Shih Tzu, Zoey, have been clients of ElderDog Victoria since last summer. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Victoria ElderDog program seeking more seniors, pups to support

Service helps elderly people to care for their canine companions

Mona Strelaeff, a Metchosin resident, is the first non-terminally ill person in Canada to be allowed to use psilocybin assisted therapy. (Provided by Spencer Hawkswell)
Metchosin woman’s trauma treatment could be trendsetting

Experts say this could signal the broadening of who can access psilocybin therapy

Sidney’s Haunted Bookshop is changing owners with longtime owner Odean Long transferring ownership Dec. 1 to William Matthews. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Longtime owner of Sidney’s Haunted Bookshop closes chapter with sale

Odean Long and her late husband moved the business to Sidney in 1996

Goldstream Food Bank volunteers at work. Light Up the City will be offering various options for the public to drop off non-perishable food items to support this food bank and others in Greater Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria residents can show their charity through Light Up the City

Drive-thru food bank and toy donation dropoff sites open up this Saturday around region

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

The Ahousaht First Nation confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 26, 2020. (Westerly file photo)
Ahousaht First Nation on lockdown over COVID-19

“Emotions are high. The anxiety is high. We want our community to pull through.”

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

Most Read