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‘Grim’ COVID-19 data highlights inequities on Saskatchewan reserves

Click to play video '‘Grim’ COVID-19 data highlights inequities on Saskatchewan reserves' ‘Grim’ COVID-19 data highlights inequities on Saskatchewan reserves
WATCH: Data from Indigenous Services Canada offers a better understanding of how many people who live on reserve have been affected by COVID-19 – Jan 20, 2021

Community leaders have been saying it from the start: the COVID-19 pandemic will disproportionately harm First Nations people.

New data from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) confirms that fear. As of Monday, there were 13,636 cases confirmed on First Nations reserves across Canada, mostly in the prairies.

Read more: Remote First Nations ‘ill-equipped’ for novel coronavirus pandemic: FSIN

Reserves in Saskatchewan have had 3,466 cases. Dr. Ibrahim Khan, ISC’s medical health officer for the province, said more than 1,100 of those cases are active.

“That certainly gives you a very grim… picture of the COVID impact, particularly on First Nations populations on reserve in Saskatchewan,” Khan told Global News.

Some other regions have seen far fewer cases compared to the prairies, where Indigenous populations are proportionately high.

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Ontario reserves, for example, have had 412 cases. Census data from 2016 shows roughly 58,100 people live on reserve in Ontario.

ISC said 78,887 people are estimated to live on Saskatchewan reserves. ISC is monitoring 22 outbreaks in the province.

“The rate of hospitalization and the rate of deaths, particularly among the age 40 and above, is very high,” Khan said, noting many older First Nations people have chronic health conditions.

The total (active and historic) number of cases on First Nations reserves as of Jan. 18, according to Indigenous Services Canada.

Twenty-two people who lived on reserve have died, he said. Of the 21 people currently in hospital, nine are in the ICU.

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The virus often spreads rapidly in First Nations communities due to overcrowded housing and limited access to health care, he said.

“COVID-19 also obviously indicates that racism and discrimination is very alive in the health system in Saskatchewan,” he said. “That certainly deters, on many occasions, people from seeking care.”

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The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) pointed out social and structural inequities in March, saying First Nations were ill-equipped to fight the virus.

Read more: Many Saskatchewan First Nations residents are travelling hours to get coronavirus treatment

“(The case count) shows the disparities in terms of some of the funding and for the First Nations… to be able to adequately resource, defend and protect their communities,” FSIN vice chief David Pratt said in a recent interview.

“We’re not on a level playing field.”

Indigenous leaders have repeatedly called on the federal government to invest in poverty reduction, housing, health care and water infrastructure.

Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (PBCN) Chief Peter Beatty said he’s seen two-bedroom homes housing up to 20 people.

“You can guess how quickly it can travel in that house,” Beatty said. “Once that happens, then the whole household has to be put into quarantine.”

Read more: B.C. mayor blasts ‘racist rhetoric’ directed at First Nation amid COVID-19 outbreak

PBCN includes seven semi-isolated northern communities, which have collectively had roughly 400 cases.

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“Most of our cases are travel-related and so we’ve put in some measures to try to mitigate that,” Beatty said.

PBCN set up security checkpoints and restricted inter-community travel.

The First Nation vaccinated 329 people last week.

“There’s a sense of some relief,” said Beatty, who received the Moderna vaccine.

“I’m just looking forward to… getting the vaccines going again and hopefully being able to vaccinate the majority, if not all of our membership.”