WINNIPEG -- Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation shut down its school Thursday to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as concerns deepen for Indigenous communities.

“With confirmed cases in Manitoba, we’re taking no chances,” said Chief Lance Roulette.

Sandy Bay is a community 170 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. The closure of Isaac Beaulieu Memorial School affects around a thousand students from kindergarten to grade 12, as a well children in a nursery. 

Chief Roulette said the shut-down is expected to last for two weeks. 

“It is very, very precautionary. Everything is being sanitized at the school. Information packages are being sent home. Teachers are preparing homework packages.”

Roulette said his staff is also working on “pandemic action plan.”


“I’m very worried,” said Cross Lake First Nation band councillor Donnie Mckay. The remote northern community of 7,000 only has only one nursing station. 

Mckay, who is in charge of the health portfolio, said Cross Lake doesn’t have the resources to deal with a possible COVID-19 outbreak.

“We don’t have buildings if we need to put people in isolation. We don’t have those essentials. That’s what’s most alarming and that’s going to cost lives,” said McKay. “We should have all the available services as any other Canadian town.”

Community members held a meeting Thursday to try to come up with a coronavirus strategy. 

“Most communities don’t have any form of transportation to get in and out. If they need a plane, or transportation, of if things become serious, we won’t have accommodation. That’s a big concern.” 

Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, released a statement outlining measures to help Northern First Nations prevent the spread.

“The risk of contracting COVID-19 in Northern Manitoba is low, however, it is increasing. I encourage everyone to wash their hands thoroughly on a regular basis and remind others to do the same. Travel is a concern at this time, so be diligent in making travel plans. We have increased the cleaning we do in our offices. I encourage First Nations to take the same steps—now is the time to be diligent in sanitizing and cleaning our spaces such as schools, office buildings, public transportation vehicles,” said Grand Chief Settee. 


The Manitoba Métis Federation issued its own warning about the coronavirus. In a statement, the MMF said “studies have shown Manitoba Métis have among the highest levels of chronic disease and diabetes, putting them in a category of being highly vulnerable to the virus.”

“To help our people, the MMF Housing Department will be making available three mobile tiny homes for emergencies in the villages or towns where families or family members need to self-isolate.”