Communities across Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) are busy with preparations due to concerns about the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are in preparation mode and we’re also meeting regularly and getting updates,” says Fort Albany Chief Leo Metatawabin. “We’re working on updating our Fort Albany First Nation epidemic plan and we’re just trying to be accountable to the First Nation and see if we can weather this storm.”
Metatawabin says his community is working on making sure they are prepared in case people come down with COVID-19.
“We have to make sure our medicines are in place and address our food security and safeguard our vulnerable people,” Metatawabin says. “So far our communication has been pretty good (with the nursing staff), but I don’t know if we have enough equipment. We need to identify what kind of equipment, if we need more supplies and all that.”
Metatawabin says people are still travelling into the community on the winter road, but it will likely be closed in a couple of weeks. He adds that air travel is slowing down to his community.
“But we do have to let people go out to their medical appointments that were booked,” Metatawabin says.
Metatawabin says his community will be releasing a statement on its plan of action in the next few days.
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Councillor Leo McKay says an emergency meeting was held on March 12 to announce the community was putting its pandemic plan into effect.
“So far we’re in our prevention stage where we’re telling everybody to hand wash properly, (to practice) social distancing,” McKay says, noting there has been “a little bit of fear” in the community. “We do have a pandemic committee in place led by myself along with chief and council. And we brought in the (Canadian) Rangers just to listen and sit in on our daily update meetings. We have an update meeting every morning at 10. We have two or three nurses who attend our meetings also.”
McKay says his community plans to put the pandemic plan into full effect if there is a confirmed COVID-19 case in Thunder Bay.
“We will put it into full effect, restrict travel, limit movement in the community,” McKay says. “Our nursing station already has supplies in stock just in case we get a (COVID-19) case in the community.”
McKay says people are still travelling to the community on the winter road and by air.
Sandy Lake executive director Monias Fiddler says the chief and council are advising community citizens to remain calm and not to panic.
“And we are taking measures to bring our community together to have a healing ceremony,” Fiddler says. “We’ll be doing that in the next two days, today and tomorrow (March 17 and 18). It’s something that we’ve been taught to do by our Elders — our people have been doing that for a number of years.”
Fiddler says the leadership has been staying in regular contact with the local health department, which has also been staying in contact with the regional health department.
“So we have regular communication, pretty much daily now,” Fiddler says.
Fiddler says non-essential travel and work-related travel have been banned in the community.
“We’re just encouraging everybody to stay put,” Fiddler says. “But the winter road is open and people can go at their own risk for personal reasons.”
Missanabie Cree Chief Jason Gauthier says his community just received reserve designation, so most citizens are living in urban communities.
“At this point we have our staff working from home,” Gauthier says. “We’re discussing now how the First Nation is going to be able to meet any needs that aren’t going to be met by either provincial or federal governments. We’re
doing everything we need to do to deal with this crisis at this point.”
Gauthier says the community’s planned events have been temporarily shut down until further notice.
“We’re following our protocols, we’re sharing that with our community citizens,” Gauthier says. “Stay safe and follow the proper protocols to stay away from the COVID-19.”
NAN announced the development of a Task Team to lead NAN’s response to COVID-19 on March 16.
“In our continued efforts to decrease risks to our communities from the COVID-19 pandemic, Nishnawbe Aski Nation is taking extraordinary steps to ensure that everything possible is done to keep our First Nations and citizens safe and supported,” says Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “I am pleased to announce that we have assembled a dedicated team of medical and field experts to make up and support our internal NAN COVID-19 Task Team.”
The Task Team includes Dr. Natalie Bocking, public health and preventative medicine specialist; Jane Philpott, NAN special advisor on health; Michael Kirlew, family physician; Lynne Innes, nurse practitioner, CEO and president of Weeneebayko Area Health Authority; Mae Katt, nurse practitioner; and Michelle Gervais, emergency management response specialist.