Canadian Armed Forces deployed to Shamattawa amid COVID-19 crisis
The Canadian Armed Forces have been called in to help Shamattawa First Nation, which has been hit hard by COVID-19. (Source: Twitter/@MarcMillerVM)
WINNIPEG -- A team from Canadian Forces Base Shilo has arrived in a remote Manitoba First Nation hit hard by COVID-19.
Around one-quarter of the population of Shamattawa First Nation, a fly-in community of just over 1,000 people, 745 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, have tested for the disease.
“The situation has gone beyond critical and I think that the situation warrants action from the highest level,” MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said Wednesday in an interview with CTV News Winnipeg.
“The frontline workers are exhausted. They have exercised everything within their capacity to be able to contain the virus but it’s beyond that now.”
There have been more than 260 confirmed cases in the community, where many live in overcrowded homes allowing the virus to spread easily.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) confirmed it dispatched a liaison and reconnaissance team from CFB Shilo to rapidly assess the situation, along with the community and provincial personnel.
“Once the assessment is completed and decisions have been made between community, provincial and federal authorities about where the CAF may be best utilized, follow-on CAF elements will be deployed to commence additional support activities,” the Department of National Defence said in an email.
The assessment to help determine what additional resources are required will take two days, according to Adrienne Vaupshas, press secretary for Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller.
Asked about Shamattawa during a media conference, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said it’s an evolving situation.
“We’re working closely with the feds and with the military…in terms of discussing where the optimum uses can be and the timeframes if necessary, to have military availability,” Pallister said.
Vaupshas said Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) has already been actively assisting the community to combat the spread of COVID-19.
“A number of key community staff are currently unavailable to support pandemic response due to isolation requirements. To bolster the response, the Bear Clan will also support the community and focus on enforcing public health orders,” Vaupshas said in an email. “Efforts are underway to increase isolation capacity within the community. To date, 48 people have been evacuated to Winnipeg for alternate isolation.”
Vaupshas said ISC is working with the First Nation, the province and other partners to secure additional alternative isolation accommodations.
Six Canadian Rangers have been in the community since Dec.4 helping to deliver food, firewood and care packages and share public health information.
A rapid response team, including two physicians and four nurses, arrived Nov. 27 and four members of the Canadian Red Cross got to the community Monday to help with outbreak response.
It comes as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise among First Nations people in Manitoba.
Eighty-seven additional cases were identified Wednesday for a total of 1478 active cases.
Eighty-seven people are in hospital, 23 are in intensive care, and 56 have died.
So far, just over 2,300 First Nations people have recovered from the disease.
The situation has advocates seeking Cree translators to help people navigate periods of isolation in Winnipeg.
“There are people coming down from the north to isolate in hotels,” said Sheila North, a member of Bunibonibee Cree Nation and a former Grand Chief.
North put out a call for translators Wednesday and said so far the response has been overwhelming.
“Many people want to help in any way they can to make elders feel comfortable or even feel like they’re not alone here in the city.”