By Xavier Kataquapit
So far I am very thankful that we are not hearing about many COVID-19 cases or deaths in remote First Nations. There are reasons that our remote northern First Nations are not yet impacted by this virus. The most important reason has to do with a very good response by our local and regional organizations, like the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN) leadership and their health professionals. I have also been made aware of the great efforts of regional organizations such as the Wabun Tribal Council in northeastern Ontario and its communities initiatives to restrict access to their First Nations and provide health services and support to their residents.
Local Native health organizations like the Mino-M’shki-ki Health Team in Kirkland Lake and Temiskaming Shores, Misiway Milopemahtesewin Community Health Centre based in Timmins and Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA) on the James Bay coast have also been assisting their respective communities with support, information and services. Mushkegowuk Council in the James Bay area and its member remote First Nations have been effective in restricting traffic in and out of their communities and in keeping everyone informed.
How important is it for our First Nations right across Canada to be represented by our own health organizations? It means a huge difference for Native people to have the ability to access funding, services and information due to the lobbying and representation of our own people. We understand what we need in times of crisis and we are very aware of how our communities operate and what our various cultural and lifestyle realities are. I have friends and family members who are health professionals and they know better in their respective communities what is best in dealing with this pandemic.
Our Indigenous leadership is very important in making sure we are getting the necessary funds, attention, supplies, services and information in a time of such crisis. I give thanks to all the Tribal Council directors, the Chiefs, Grand Chiefs and all the staff working in our political and health organizations, because without them we would be left out of the loop. I also say Meegwetch to all those Chiefs who came before us and fought long and hard to put into place the regional and national organizations across this country to give our people a voice.
So far Indigenous peoples are holding their own in fighting this virus. Remote First Nations like my home community of Attawapiskat on the James Bay coast are fortunate during this pandemic for their isolation. Many of these communities can only be accessed by air travel and seasonal winter road activity. Limiting travel in this time of pandemic crisis is protecting a very vulnerable society. Many people back in my home community and up the James Bay Coast are heading out to their traditional camps on the land and that is serving them well in avoiding contact and in keeping their families isolated.
I am still worried that the world’s virus experts are warning us that we probably won’t find a vaccine or develop herd immunity to this virus for as much as a couple of years. In the meantime, we are all very vulnerable to this new virus and we have to make sure that our governments are careful and slow in opening things back up in our society.
It looks like we will be opening up slowly over the summer and that most schools will wait until after summer to welcome students back. The only proven way we have to protect people right now and into the immediate future is by staying home, physical distancing, wearing a mask when we are out in the public and washing hands often.
Many of us don't realize that most of our industrial plants and mines across the country are still operating and in many cases it is difficult to ensure everyone is safe from infection. Meegwetch to all of these workers for doing their jobs and keeping our economy afloat. Slowly we will all work together to ensure that our world returns to some type of normal, but we must realize it will take many months and most probably a couple of years. Our world has changed and we are going to have to keep adapting and respecting each other and following some basic health and safety rules to survive this pandemic.
All our ancestors, both Native and non-Native, managed to rise above many diseases, wars and all kinds of tragic events and we will work together to keep that spirit of survival alive.