For immediate release
April 7, 2020

Treaty Five Territory, Thompson, MB Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) is issuing a series of media releases to provide an update on issues being addressed in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic for First Nations in Northern Manitoba.

MKO has grouped the issues into three main themes: protecting First Nations; infrastructure; as well as funding and supplies. The issues are numerous. This media release focuses on communication issues connected to the theme of “infrastructure.”

MKO First Nations leaders and citizens were all too aware of persistent challenges with communications infrastructure before the COVID-19 virus arrived in Northern Manitoba last week. Preparing to cope with a pandemic is bringing a deeper sense of urgency to the need to address infrastructure issues. As the First Nations prepare for the arrival of the COVID-19 virus, they are raising the alarm over the poor Internet and phone services that are the reality for many Northern communities.

“A major infrastructure issue we are dealing with now is the lack of reliable Internet and phone service,” shared Grand Chief Garrison Settee. “Our infrastructure issues are going to make or break our success when it comes to our ability to mitigate the impacts of the virus on the vulnerable citizens in our communities.”

“Reliable, clear, and accessible communication is key during a pandemic,” stated Grand Chief Settee. “First Nations have been encouraged to develop pandemic plans, but an essential component is missing. Many Northern First Nations lack access to reliable Internet and cell phone service. I am worried this lack of access to a reliable communications system may have devastating impacts on First Nations citizens.”

Information on the COVID-19 pandemic is being shared with First Nations in a multitude of ways, including through emails, websites, social media, and regular teleconference calls. Many First Nations have a poor telephone connection, which can make phone calls challenging.

“It is really disheartening that we are living in an age that we do not have the adequate Internet services that our people deserve. Those that have Internet, it’s very slow. It would have been better if we had the most adequate and reliable Internet services in our communities. It would make things much easier but right now this is not the case,” said Grand Chief Settee. “We have been advocating to the government at this present time that they need to invest in the North and do it in such a way that it is not divisive and in a way that everybody will be able to access Internet services without it becoming political. The bottom line is Chiefs need to be able to communicate with Band members in a reliable way in emergency situations. Federal and provincial health leaders also need to be able to communicate with First Nations in a timely and reliable way in the event of an emergency.”

MKO will continue to advocate for Northern First Nations and continues to share updates as they become available and will continue to raise infrastructure issues with provincial and federal partners.

MKO shares information on COVID-19 on our social media accounts and on a new webpage created for this purpose.


WATCH: Grand Chief Settee speaks about the need for reliable Internet and phone services in Northern Manitoba: