Tansi! As Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc., I am writing to provide you with an update on various issues we are dealing with at MKO in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I would like to first acknowledge First Nations leadership, Tribal Councils, and health directors. These leaders have worked diligently to ensure each of our Northern communities are prepared and kept safe. I meet with Chiefs regularly and I am impressed with all the excellent work I hear about that is happening in our First Nations. I want to thank the members of MKO’s Executive Council for taking the time to meet with me every Wednesday while we work to respond to the pandemic.

MKO has been working together with Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin in support of the health, wellness, and safety of First Nations people in Northern Manitoba. We are working to provide support to the frontline workers in each community. Staff from our “check-in teams” communicate with health directors on a regular basis.

The importance of physical/social distancing

Thanks to each of you who has listened to the public health orders that ask you to practice hand washing and social/physical distancing. It is important to stay home. By staying home, you are helping to limit the spread of the virus to the most vulnerable—our Elders—and to those with compromised immune systems and serious health conditions.

I encourage you to continue doing your part to keep our communities healthy. Keep following social/physical distancing measures until your Chief and Council tells you otherwise.

Manitoba’s re-opening plan

Earlier this week, the Premier of Manitoba announced that the province will be gradually opening the economy, with things like campgrounds, barbers, and patios being opened for business. I want to let you know: this is NOT a return to normal. We still need to be vigilant.

Take care of your well-being

I encourage you to continue with hand washing, staying home, regularly disinfecting your homes, and practicing social/physical distancing. I know it’s hard to stay home as I have been doing it myself. You can take care of yourself in a good way by getting out onto the land. One thing I do every day is I go for a long walk to get exercise and to clear my mind. The walk helps immensely.

I encourage you to think about what healthy habits you can develop to keep you well. What kind of activities can you be doing outside during this time? I’d like to ask people from MKO First Nations to send me your positive stories about what people are doing to stay healthy in your community. You can send your stories to [email protected]. I’ll be featuring highlights from some of the stories in future updates.Good news stories

If you need mental health resources or if you are experiencing domestic violence, please visit this webpage as we have a lot of resources listed for mental health assistance as well as help for those experiencing violence in their home.

I will now provide you with a brief update on some of the issues MKO is addressing through our advocacy efforts.

Advocacy issues

MKO assists First Nations by advocating on their behalf. Some of the issues we have been addressing during this time of COVID-19 include:

  • Working with federal and provincial partners to address the lack of high-speed Internet in Northern Manitoba
  • Asking the province to close the Keeyask construction site and HudBay Mine at Snow Lake
  • Working with the Northwest Company to ensure goods and supplies are available
  • Putting pressure on the federal government to provide resources for people who are living off reserve
  • Asking the RCMP for help to enforce public health measures and requesting that Safety Officers be designated as peace officers

We have also encouraged the Province of Manitoba to continue restricting travel to Northern Manitoba. There is a public health order in place that restricts travel North of the 53rd parallel until the end of May 2020. With higher rates of COVID-19 in the south and in our neighbouring provinces, we must remain vigilant. I suggest that you limit your travel and avoid areas where there are growing rates of COVID-19. It is best to stay home or on the land around your community for now.

Thank you reading this update from MKO. Next week I will begin providing updates to MKO First Nations via messages on NCI FM. I look forward to staying in touch with you in this way.

Ekosani, masi cho, miigwetch, and thank you,

Grand Chief Garrison Settee