Caravan of Hope for Bearskin Lake First Nation

A caravan of skidoos left Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug over the weekend laden down with food and supplies on a Mission of Hope for Bearskin Lake First Nation trapped in a crisis with COVID-19 infecting over half of the community. See story page 10 (Photo by Linda A Mckay)

Bearskin Lake First Nation facing ‘severe’ COVID-19 outbreak

BEARSKIN LAKE FIRST NATION- Indigenous leaders are now calling for the military to be deployed to Bearskin Lake First Nation after almost a half of the small northern community’s population have become infected with COVID-19.

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug community members on a “Mission of Hope” pack up goods headed to Bear Skin Lake on skidoos on New Year’s day when the temperatures were -35. (FaceBook photo)

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug community members on a “Mission of Hope” pack up goods headed to Bear Skin Lake on skidoos on New Year’s day when the temperatures were -35. (FaceBook photo)

In a release issued Monday (Jan., 3 2022) community leaders said 174 individuals “have tested positive – which means almost 50 percent of the on-reserve population is infected with COVID-19, including the band’s administrative and essential staff responsible for the running of the band’s administration, operation and maintenance units.
The community’s infrastructure has crippled the community’s operations, said Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin.
In a statement Chief Kamenawatamin said “The virus is vicious, and it does not discriminate.”
He said in the release. “Our babies and children, mothers, and Elders have all been hit. We are reeling at the speed of the spread of this potentially deadly disease. This outbreak has stretched our resources and our capacity to the point of breaking.”
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu announced Sunday $483,000 in funding is heading to Bearskin Lake First Nation for resources to help support the remote First Nation community in Northern Ontario .

Muskrat Dam community members jumped in their trucks loaded down with firewood and hit the ice road to help BearSkin Lake First Nation (FB Photo)

Muskrat Dam community members jumped in their trucks loaded down with firewood and hit the ice road to help BearSkin Lake First Nation (FB Photo)

“To support Bearskin Lake First Nation in their state of emergency and severe COVID outbreak, [Indigenous Services Canada] has approved $483,000 for a number of resources in addition to other supports that have been coordinated in the past month,” Hajdu tweeted Sunday.
She said the funding will go towards “food security, PPE, funding for local community COVID workers, and supplies like wood cutting and collection, as requested by the community.”
Hajdu has also mobilized a Rapid Response Team out of Thunder Bay to assist Bearskin Lake, that includes a device for molecular testing.
She said ISC is also working with the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, Windigo Mental Health and the local public health unit to provide support, including nurses for surge capacity.
Bearskin Lake First Nation is a fly-in community located around 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.
The community announced a state of emergency in late December over the outbreak.
Now households are under quarantine and require food and water to be delivered and, chopped wood for heating and medication to relieve fever and pain.
Grand Chief Derek Fox, of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations including Bearskin Lake, called on the federal and provincial governments to provide aid.
“We are extremely unique because we don’t have that health-care system to support should someone get extremely sick,” he said.
“There’s extreme concern should an emergency break out, should someone need to be transported, should someone be at that point where they might lose their life and they’re pretty much on their own.”
Chief Kamenawatamin said the community has requested financial aid and other supports but have been told by the federal government the “assistance we will get is minimal.”
He said they will not get funding to bring in crisis personnel.
That, he said, “signals to us that we are on our own. I must now implore Canada and Canadians for their assistance and request that the military be deployed to us immediately to assist us.”

Media Release
January 3, 2022

REQUEST FOR DEPLOYMENT OF MILITARY PERSONNEL TO BEARSKIN LAKE FIRST NATION

On December 29th, 2021, the Bearskin Lake First Nation declared a state of emergency due to an outbreak of COVID 19 infections. As of today, 174 individuals have tested positive – which means almost fifty percent of the on-reserve population is infected. Those infected include the administrative and essential staff of the band’s administration, operations, and maintenance units. The day-to-day operations of the community are crippled.
“The virus is vicious, and it does not discriminate,” said Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin. “Our babies and children, mothers, and Elders have all been hit. We are reeling at the speed of the spread of this potentially deadly disease. This outbreak has stretched our resources and our capacity to the point of breaking.”
Like many impoverished, remote First Nation communities, Bearskin Lake must contend with a poorly resourced public health care system, few nurses, severe overcrowding, and no space to operate testing and isolation centres. The community cannot separate infected people from those that are uninfected, adding to the stress and anxiety and potentially exposing individuals to reinfection.
Currently, the majority of households are under quarantine and require food and water delivery, chopped wood for heating and medication to relieve fever and pain. There is now an urgent need for outside health and other workers to help operate the community’s crisis care system around the clock. Without places available to house outside volunteers, daily flights in and out of the community carrying crisis personnel is essential.
“We have requested financial and other supports from the federal government, but we have been told that the assistance we will get is minimal,” said Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin. “We will not get funds to bring crisis personnel to Bearskin Lake – which signals to us that we are on our own. I must now implore Canada and Canadians for their assistance and request that the military be deployed to us immediately to assist us.”
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Bearskin Lake First Nation is located 425 kilometres north of Sioux Lookout on Lake Michikan. It is accessible by air throughout the year, and during the winter months, by ice road. In 1929 they signed Treaty 9 with Ontario and Canada which assured them economic and educational opportunity and Canadian standards of health care and services.

For more information contact:

Michael Heintzman
Nishnawbe Aski Nation
c. 807 621 2790
mheintzman@nan.ca

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