By Victoria Gray
Six Nations of the Grand River accounts for more than half of active COVID-19 cases in Ontario’s Indigenous population in a surge of cases pushing it past Toronto for case per capita.
As of Feb., 9, 2021 the community active cases rose to 53. In the last seven days 56 tested positive. There have been a total of 210 cases and two deaths.
The surge in cases are believed to have been the result of large events in the community.
The skyrocketing number of positive cases in the last 30 days have created a weekly incidence rate of 187 cases per 100,000 people. Toronto’s weekly incidence rate is 142 cases for every 100,000 people.
Six Nations has the largest First Nation population in Canada.
Ohsweken Public Health previously released a statement saying those who attended Mid Winter ceremonies may be a risk and anyone who went should get tested for COVID-19.
“This COVID-19 pandemic is very mentally draining on everyone, testing is not about shaming members but more so about reducing further spread into the community and we are pleading with members to come forward to be tested.” Six Nations Director of Health Services, Lori Davis-Hill said in the statement.
The Chiefs of Ontario (COO) have tracked COVID-19 numbers in each Ontario First Nations community and out of 51 nations with COVID-19 cases, Six Nations has the most.
As of February 3 the COO data reports there are currently 84 active cases in Indigenous people in 19 communities in Ontario, 47 of those active cases are on Six Nations.
COO data shows there have been a total of 697 cases of COVID-19 in Indigenous community members in 51 of 133 communities since the beginning of the pandemic. Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) reported a total of 560 cases in Ontario on February 8.
As of February 5, the Mississaugas of the Credit had two active cases, 14 total cases and two deaths.
Akwesasne has the second highest case load at 169, 14 active cases and eight deaths.
Third highest for overall positive cases is Oneida Nation of the Thames with 94 total cases, two active cases and one death, which the community mourned over the weekend.
ISC is reporting 1,834 active cases of COVID-19 in First Nation communities across Canada and 175 COVID-19 related deaths across all First Nations communities country wide.
The Neskantaga First Nation has vaccinated 88 per cent of its eligible population.
“Every effort will be made for people that couldn’t take the first vaccine due to travel or other reasons to have an opportunity to take it,” Chief Chris Moonias said.
Last week Slate Falls, Neskantaga, Muskrat Dam, Fort Severn, Webequie, and Kashechewan First Nations were given COVID-19 vaccinations from the Orgne team.
Six Nation Elected Council (SNEC) and Ohsweken Public Health did not return requests for comment.
Six Nations public helath also issued concerns about community members crossing the border in to the USA.or leaving the province saying they must quarantine for 14 days or could face a fine of up to $1000.
In a statement Feb., 3 2021 SNEC noted Six Nations Police Services (SNPS) are facing a consistent number of community members who travel across the border despite the community’s Black Level Alert status, requiring residents to only leave home for essential purposes.
“Each community member must do their part by following the health and safety measures that protect against COVID-19. It needs to be stressed to the community that they should only be travelling for essential purposes,” Lori Davis Hill, Director of Health Services said.
SNPS is given a list of travellers re-entering the community from the Canada Border Services Agency in order to check on them to make sure they are following their mandatory 14-day quarantine to ensure they do not have COVID-19 before they resume their daily activities in the community, including work, groceries and medical appointments during the Black Level Alert status.
SNPS can fine those who do not follow quarantine procedures a set fine of $1,000, under the Federal Statute Quarantine Act.
Rebecca Purdy, a senior spokesperson the for Canada Border Services Agency said between January 1 and December 31, 2020 more than 161,000 First Nations band members crossed at a port of entry in Ontario.
“Specifically, this is the number of First Nations travellers who used one of the following identification documents: Secure Certificate of Indian Status, Certificate of Indian Status, Temporary Confirmation of Registration document or Enhanced Tribal Card (issued by the United States).
However, First Nations travellers may present another eligible travel document, such as a passport or NEXUS card. If this is the case, reporting systems will not indicate whether the traveller is a First Nations member,” she said.
Six Nations Public Health is also raising concerns about community members who are not following self-isolation protocols after coming in close contact with a person who is COVID-19 positive or recent travel.
“To clarify, if you are quarantining or self-isolating this means that you are to stay home for a minimum of 14 days or until otherwise directed by Ohsweken Public Health,” SNEC said in a statement.
The Canadian Border Services and federal government also require travellers to quarantine for 14 days and to enter the country people must pass COVID-19 screening questions.
SNPS can fine community members who do not self isolate, host social gatherings or do not follow protocols for businesses $750 under the Reopening Act of Ontario.
Six Nations Police Chief Darren Montour said police will respond to large gatherings. “If we receive any calls in regards to large gatherings we will respond and investigate. Working in conjunction with HCCC, SNEC and Public Health we want to ensure the safety and health of everyone here at Six Nations.:”
He said SNPS did not receive any complaints about any recent large gatherings.
However, he said in two recent events, a large funeral and midwinter ceremonies police were contacted.
“Family members did contact us and state that Covid regulations would be in place for those paying their respects to Mr (Ken) Hill, mask wearing, sanitizing, social distancing, specified entrance and exit and limiting the amount of persons inside the residence.”
He said police will respect the privacy of community members going through funerals in the community.
“As you are aware funerals for community members are very tragic and sad for family and friends and the SNPS do not attend and are leaving the onus on the family to ensure Covid-19 guideline are followed,” said Police Chief Montour.
He said the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC) representatives did contact the SNPS regarding Midwinter Ceremonies.
“The HCCC reached out to SNPS as well with regard to Midwinter Ceremonies at the Longhouses.
They advised that public health guidelines would be followed there as well. Again, we received no calls for service to either Longhouse.”
Two employees at Iroquois Lodge tested Positive for COVID-19 last Thursday but no residents have tested positive.
“Both individuals were reported asymptomatic at the time of testing, which is a stark reminder to the community that testing is an important tool for containing further spread. I am thankful for the Lodge’s continual surveillance testing. We acted quickly to protect the residents and the team working at the Lodge,” Davis-Hill said.
The lodge surveillance testing is a safeguard that has been in place since last March when the pandemic began.
The lodge has not had a single resident with a case through the pandemic.,
Visiting protocols will change at the lodge, and staff will contact designated caregivers.
Six Nations is urging the people to keep following health and safety guidelines to stop any more spread of COVID-19 within the territory.
“To book a COVID-19 test at the assessment center visit www.sixnationscovid19.ca or call 1-855-977-7737 or locally at 226-446-9909.
By Victoria Gray