By Chelsea Kemp
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Southern Chiefs’ Organization has begun the deployment of essential medical supplies across southwest Manitoba to help nations endure the latest wave of COVID-19.
The organization began delivering thousands of rapid tests and N-95 masks, along with medications like Tylenol and Advil for infants, children and adults. The supplies are being distributed on a per-capita basis to 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota communities across southern Manitoba, said Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.
The supplies come at a critical time as this week First Nation people make up 24 per cent of new cases and 44 per cent of those in the intensive care unit in Manitoba.
“When you talk about equity, not all communities are the same, not all demographics are the same, some are at historical disadvantages as a result of policy,” Daniels said. “That’s really been the challenge for us, to ensure that those decision-makers in Ottawa, our partners here in the province are mindful of the fact that we end to ensure First Nations are given priority access.”
The hunt for the much-needed medical supplies began in late November. The SCO saw two requested shipments cancelled without explanation before receiving supplies last week.
The shipment was received on Friday and as soon as supplies were in hands they were immediately sent out to member Nations.
The delays in medical supply requests had a major impact on First Nations due to how easily spread omicron has proven to be. Masks and rapid tests are essential tools for communities to fight Omicron and the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“They can’t do a whole lot if we don’t provide supplies like this and so we think that it’s potentially saving lives because it creates more caution within individuals because they are aware that they are positive,” Daniels said. He noted rapid tests were especially critical because there are instances where people can have the virus and be a-symptomatic.
“If you don’t have a test then you’re not going to know. It’s absolutely important for us to be able to test ourselves and our communities and can therefore prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”
He noted First Nation members have done their best to help address the spread of the virus, and this has included strong participation in vaccination programs. Daniels said this has likely changed the outcome and lives of citizens.
The experience of delayed medical supply requests highlights the systemic issue of health care support in First Nations and the need to support robust community-led capacity.
Daniels hopes that by using different strategies and listening to health professionals hope they will see better outcomes for Nation members.
In terms of health care support, there needs to remain a focus on preventing the spread of the virus in communities. Daniels said this includes taking practical approaches with on-the-ground action.
It is critical to establish and maintain these supports because many communities cannot easily access medical supplies like masks or rapid tests.
“It’s been abundantly clear from the data that First Nation people and communities have the most critical need when it comes to accessing these essential supplies,” Daniels said. “We have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic due to inequitable access to health care, and the implications of colonization, racism, and the infrastructure deficit. It is profoundly disappointing that at a time when First Nation lives are on the line, large corporate and government entities are jumping the line and leaving First Nations waiting for the supplies we need to protect our citizens. “
The global health crisis has shown there is a need to have more First Nations-led health care supports and initiatives across the province.
One of the key barriers to overcome is First Nations trust with existing health care systems, especially given the negligence some First Nation patients can experience, Daniels said.
There is also a need to continue building community-led capacity and support.
Deliveries like the medical supplies provided by SCO can aid in building the notion of First Nation’s being able to provide health care support and their ability to tackle shortfalls in health services.
Daniels hopes actions like the delivery of medical supplies aid in building more trust and give First Nations the ability to continue to serve as leads when it comes to health services.
“We need to change that and we need to characterize the health system as something that is something that can be trusted in the minds of Indigenous people and hopefully make them feel that is a place for them to be and that they are welcome there,” Daniels said.
Chelsea Kemp is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the BRANDON SUN. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada