Magnetawan First Nation declared COVID free but chief wants vaccine ASAP 

  By John McFadden

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Magnetawan First Nation, north of Parry Sound, was recently declared COVID-free, but the territory’s chief said he really wants to  see the vaccine given to his community members as soon as possible.

Chief William Diabo said that the Magnetawan First Nation was declared free of the coronavirus on New Year’s Eve. Nine members had been diagnosed with COVID-19 during December and all recovered, the  last one being declared free of the virus and out of isolation on Dec.  31. That number represents almost 10 per cent of the community’s  population of about 115 residents.

Diabo had imposed a voluntary lockdown and a state of emergency when  the virus first hit the territory in December.  He said those orders  have been lifted; however, he added that the territory is now covered by  the Ontario-wide, province-imposed state of emergency and the  restrictions that come with it, including a stay-at-home order.

Diabo said that he is expecting a COVID vaccine rollout in the  territory in the coming weeks.  But he added that he understands they  will have to wait their turn as front-line health-care workers, and  residents of seniors’ residences, are vaccinated first.  He added that  he is still frustrated by some community members who are refusing the  follow the COVID protocols.

“I have a couple of people on my First Nation who are still not  complying.  One of them posted the damn thing on social media during the  lockdown that they were having a gathering with people from four other  households who were coming for breakfast over the

holidays,” Diabo said.   “That’s the worst thing, when you are a small community of 50 homes.   You are best to stay in your own

home.  Don’t go to someone else’s,  don’t let them come to yours.”

Diabo said he is also frustrated by what he thinks is a lack of will  by some police services to enforce the lockdown on First Nations  territories.  He said there are jurisdictional issues whereby he feels  OPP and RCMP are reluctant to come onto the territory to issue tickets.   The chief added that even if a person gets a ticket for having too many  people in their home, there are no measures in place to keep them from  repeating the infraction.

As far as the vaccine rollout is concerned, Diabo believes Indigenous  communities should follow seniors’ homes on the priority list.

“That’s what I’ve been told.  It’s a matter of getting the vaccine  distributed.  It’ll happen, I hope no later than the end of February  but I hope sooner than that,” Diabo said.

He added that the pace at which the vaccine is being rolled out is a  concern, but he said that only when, and if, it appears the territory is  not being given the priority it was promised will he begin to kick up  dust and complain to officials.  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in  December that Indigenous communities would be given priority for  vaccination after front-line health-care workers and other vulnerable  people, including seniors.

In an email, Parry Sound Muskoka MPP Norm Miller said he can understand the concerns of Indigenous leaders like Diabo.

“Adults in First Nations, Metis, and Inuit populations where  infections can have disproportionate consequences, including those  living in remote or isolated areas, will be among the first to be  offered the COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks,” Miller stated.

“Given the previous case numbers in certain First Nation communities  within the riding, I agree actions need to be taken as quickly as  possible, and I have shared these concerns with the ministry.  It is an  unfortunate reality that the vaccine is now a finite resource which is  why it is important to prioritize high risk areas first.   I will  continue to advocate on behalf of all high-risk populations in Parry  Sound-Muskoka as we move forward.”

John McFadden is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Indigenous issues for, and  His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local  Journalism Initiative.


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