Indigenous leaders in Manitoba are calling on the provincial government to do better with their COVID-19 response efforts.
This comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations among First Nations communities in Manitoba spikes.
According to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, as of Monday there were 679 active cases of COVID-19 among First Nations both off and on reserves. The data also shows that 20 per cent of people hospitalized in the province are Indigenous.
The five-day test positivity rate among Indigenous people across the province was 11 per cent, surpassing the provincial rate of 8.6 per cent.
“It’s quite shocking and alarming. I think we need to have a refocus on how we address this issue,” Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs grand chief Arlen Dumas told Global News.
“We knew that we were this vulnerable, we had an appreciation of it. Unfortunately, I think out initial success led to a bit of our failure. I think it’s a wake-up call for everyone that we really need to change how we move forward and we need to do that immediately.”
Jerry Daniels, the grand chief of the Southern Chiefs Organization, says the province needs to step up their efforts and free up critically-needed funds.
“The numbers are just a reflection of what the reality is for First Nations people, and so we need to have the supports streamlined and we need to see action happening a lot quicker than it is,” Daniels said.
The Southern Chiefs Organization says since Oct. 31, 26 First Nations across Canada have reported two or more cases of COVID-19, and 17 of those communities are in Manitoba.
Daniels said the province needs to focus more on resources and taking action, rather than policy.
“I think with the province we’d like to see some sort of action rather than just policy statements or policy directives,” Daniels said, adding that the province is working to improve testing capacity and rates on First Nations.
It’s a statement echoed by Dumas.
“I’m a little frustrated with the inaction of our provincial government. I think that’s it’s shameful,” he said.
“I think that we need to move forward and I think that they cannot continue to rest on the successes that our First Nations advocacy has done, and they need to do their part.”
Daniels says First Nations are now focusing on limiting the spread within their communities.
“There’s not a whole lot we can do once it’s getting into the community, except for just slow down the traffic,” Daniels said.
Both chiefs are also voicing concerns that COVID-19 could get out of control in poverty-stricken First Nations, where overcrowding is an issue.
“I think it’s very distressing,” Dumas said. “I think that we are very much in tune to our reality. We have overcrowding, we have a lot of our facilities that are very communal. We don’t have the luxury of having multiple facilities that we would be able to call upon.”
Dumas also says he has concerns over how the potential curfews could impact vulnerable Manitobans.
“I think it’s frivolous. I think we’re well past, we’re well beyond (that),” he said. “We’ve already shut down all of the restaurants all of the institutions where people are to gather after hours, so what’s the point of doing a curfew?
“Unfortunately the people who will be impacted are those who are homeless and are living on the street. Where are they going to go when the curfew happens? You’ll end up targeting the most vulnerable, and it doesn’t make any sense.”