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This article was published 2/9/2020 (258 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba First Nations have kept COVID-19 at bay, with zero on-reserve cases since the pandemic arrived in the province earlier this year.
The most recent report from Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Co-ordination Team, dated Aug. 28, puts the number of lab-confirmed cases among First Nations people at 22, with 19 recovered. All cases are off-reserve. Three are in the Prairie Mountain Health region. There have been no deaths.
First Nations represented 11 per cent of tests done in Manitoba so far, with a total of 12,002 tests. Of those, 60 per cent of tests were completed for on-reserve First Nations people and 40 per cent for those who live in urban or rural areas, according to the co-ordination team.
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Chief Jennifer Bone said having a good team in her community has kept COVID-19 out.
"We have an incident commander and our health centre, our nurses. We rely heavily, and we still continue to rely heavily, on our health professionals that are working for our nation," Bone said.
The bottom line has been communication and information sharing — that includes between the incident commander and leadership, between leadership and staff, then out to the community by way of social media, Sioux Valley websites and other methods within the community.
The toughest and saddest part has been funerals.
"We’ve had a pretty sad year in regards to losing our community members. We’re fortunate that people have had them (funerals) at their homes. We have a tent and they were able to use that. We assist them in whatever way we can," Bone said.
"Again, we have our incident command team and they would go and visit the families to ensure that they’re aware of what the public health guidelines were, at the same time being mindful and respectful to the family and just sharing that information."
Birdtail Sioux First Nation Chief Ken Chalmers cites education, similar to Bone’s comments, and historical fear of diseases, such as smallpox and tuberculosis, as the main markers for success for his community.
"We lost a lot of our people — devastated by smallpox, devastated by tuberculosis," he said.
"I think it’s ingrained in us to fear these sort of things."
Also, with the first wave of COVID-19 that hit Manitoba, Birdtail put up a checkstop until the province’s numbers were down to zero. Anyone not a member of the First Nation was kept out.
"We had our health staff delivering information," Chalmers said. "They did a good job explaining what this was about."
A new store on the reserve helped members stay local, and not venture too far. Nevertheless, each home was provided with hand sanitizer and masks — everything they needed if they had to go on a trip or if they had to leave the reserve for essential services.
With Brandon’s case numbers up, Chalmers said he has heard band members aren’t going to the city anymore.
Ultimately, Birdtail has depended on its pandemic plan.
"That’s changing all the time. It’s there. That’s what we followed," he said.
That said, the First Nation’s checkstop came with a price tag of $75,000 per month. Chalmers said that won’t be reimbursed by the federal government, and he told The Brandon Sun it would have to go back up this week because of the high numbers around the First Nation.
Flexible programming dollars — such Elders’ programs and Meals on Wheels — could be used to fund the checkstop, but Chalmers isn’t certain that would be reimbursed and he and council were reluctant to go into that money.
"We can’t be sure they won’t claw it back or that we won’t get it (program funding) next year," he said.
There were narrow parameters for security, for example. Funds could be used for security to keep someone self-isolating in their home.
"There really wasn’t enough money for securing your reserve down," Chalmers said.
Sioux Valley doesn’t have a checkstop expense like Birdtail does, though it has a "No visitors" sign.
"It’s working. We did actually have some preliminary discussions regarding having barricades or completely closing down our community. But it’s just not possible because we have two provincial highways going through," Bone said.
The road to Birdtail, though, leads only to Birdtail.
Bone said people have definitely been respectful, especially those who do business with the community.
"They’re calling," she said. "We haven’t hosted any meetings — a lot of Zoom (meetings)."
People, generally, call ahead, asking about restrictions.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Brandon, Sioux Valley is also doubling down on the information sharing, and is encouraging its members to limit their travel to essential services and needs only.
"Just making them more aware and letting them know to take precautions. But I think people are very aware of that," Bone said.
Chalmers said that at the beginning of the pandemic, some band members misbehaved.
"I think it hit home now," he said.
» Michele LeTourneau covers Indigenous matters for The Brandon Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.