For immediate release
April 2, 2020

Treaty Five Territory, Thompson, MB Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) is issuing a series of media releases this week to provide an update on issues that are 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 issues connected to the theme of “infrastructure” with a specific focus on housing issues.

MKO First Nations leaders and citizens were all too aware of persistent challenges with infrastructure before the COVID-19 virus arrived in Northern Manitoba earlier this week. Preparing to cope with a pandemic is bringing a deeper sense of urgency to the need to address infrastructure issues.

“A lack of housing and the overall shortage of buildings in which we can set up field hospitals or self-isolation units is coming up on a daily basis as a concern for Northern First Nations,” shared Grand Chief Garrison Settee. “We are aware that the focus of all our partners is on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, however, we do need to pay attention to the lack of housing as it directly impacts our ability to follow public health advice designed to mitigate the impacts of the virus on the vulnerable citizens in our communities.”

MKO First Nations continue to raise housing an issue with municipal, provincial, and federal partners. While self-isolation is a recommended public health measure to reduce the impact of COVID-19, the reality is First Nations in Manitoba have insufficient housing stock. It is common to have 10 or more people living in a two- or three-bedroom home. It is impossible to self-isolate with a shortage of housing.

“Norway House has a number of Members who live off reserve in urban areas. It makes sense they want to return to their home Nation at this time,” stated Chief Larson Anderson of Norway House Cree Nation. “While we wish to have our People come home, we also are expected to follow the provincial guidelines of self-isolating for 14 days. There is not enough room in most of our homes that would allow us to follow this measure. For decades, every government and their bureaucrats have known the lack of housing for First Nation People is a major crisis! We’re not asking for mansions, we just want a warm home with no mold or leaky roofs, where our people can truthfully say thank you Canada!”

Along with a lack of housing, there is also a shortage of public buildings that could be used to set up testing sites for COVID-19. In the south there are drive-through testing sites at recreation centres, arenas, and Manitoba Public Insurance buildings. In the North, there isn’t as much access to such infrastructure.

The test for COVID-19 can be administered at nursing stations, however, First Nations do not want these tests happening in nursing stations. This would increase the chances for the virus to spread to other non-infected citizens.

“MKO has been and will continue to push for spaces to provide COVID-19 tests well away from nursing stations. One idea is to set up BluMed tents to create field hospitals in our communities. The bottom line is we need to take all steps we can to protect the most vulnerable from being exposed to the virus,” said Grand Chief Settee. “It would be useful if all First Nations could have testing sites set up away from nursing stations.

MKO will continue to advocate for Northern First Nations and continues to share updates as they become available. MKO shares information on COVID-19 on our social media accounts and on a webpage created for this purpose.