‘Preparedness over panic’: Siksika First Nation launches mobile COVID-19 response unit, Blackfoot hotline

Siksika First Nation launches mobile COVID-19 response units
The Siksika First Nation is one of many communities operating under a local state of emergency. Here’s Cami Kepke with more on the measures they have in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

There are currently no cases of COVID-19 on Siksika First Nation and the emergency response team is working day and night to keep it that way.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” Chief Ouray Crowfoot said.

The first nation has taken a unique approach to the novel coronavirus outbreak that’s turning heads.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Siksika Nation declares local state of emergency due to COVID-19

Earlier this week, it launched a mobile COVID-19 response unit.

This special team is making house calls 24/7 to conduct tests for COVID-19 in hopes of easing pressure on doctors offices and hospitals, while also keeping people in their homes.

They’ve also delivered 100 hampers of food to vulnerable citizens and elders to help them weather the pandemic.

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Another 200 hampers will be delivered over the weekend.

READ MORE: Alberta closes some non-essential business, prevents evictions as 542 COVID-19 cases confirmed

The 40-person team has also set up hotlines in both English and Blackfoot to provide answers to all COVID-19-related questions and offer mental health supports, earning recognition from Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

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“We need to make sure we cover all the bases, all communication to all our nation members, including our elders who only speak Blackfoot,” emergency management director Stacey Doore said.

“The ones who are most vulnerable to the virus physically are also the most vulnerable to it emotionally,” Crowfoot said.

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Doore has worked in emergency response for more than a decade and laid the groundwork for the First Nation’s emergency plan.

“We’ve been preparing – not necessarily for the COVID virus – but for pandemics and disasters,” Crowfoot added.

“We’ve had a few on Siksika. We’ve had wildfires, we had the flood in 2013 and we’ve learned a lot from those events.That helped us ramp up for this.”

While many members of the team are working more than 12 hours a day, there’s still more work to do.

Roughly 4,500 of 7,800 registered members of Siksika live on the first nation, where a local state of emergency is expected to remain in place.

Local leadership is working on plans to support those living off-reserve.

READ MORE: Assembly of First Nations declares national state of emergency over COVID-19 pandemic

They’re also working with the Blackfoot Confederacy and other Treaty Seven chiefs to share and implement similar emergency plans across the province.

“I want to emphasize we’re Siksika strong,” Doore said. “The outburst of help that’s been pouring in from the outside has been phenomenal.”

“We’re working on a revolutionary way of doing emergency management in all first nations.”

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If you’re a member of the Siksika First Nation and need help, the following hotline numbers have been set up:

English: 403-734-5706

Blackfoot: 403-734-5717