Bearskin Lake First Nation in Ontario calls for military help as COVID-19 infects nearly half the population

Bearskin Lake First Nation in Ontario calls for military help as COVID-19 infects nearly half the population

by Sue Jones
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Bearskin Lake First Nation in northwestern Ontario is dealing with 174 confirmed COVID-19 cases, close to half its on-reserve population. They include a significant number of essential workers.

Bearskin Lake First Nation leaders are asking for military assistance to provide support as the community in northwestern Ontario deals with a COVID-19 spike, with 174 confirmed cases as of Monday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Leaders of a First Nation in northwestern Ontario where nearly half the on-reserve population has tested positive for COVID-19 are seeking Canadian military aid.

As of Monday, 174 cases have been confirmed at Bearskin Lake, which has about 400 people on reserve. Over 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, the First Nation declared a state of emergency last week.

Charles Fox is a member of Bearskin Lake First Nation and former Nishnawbe Aski Nation grand chief who is involved in co-ordinating support for the community.

Fox said a significant number of people who tested positive are essential workers.

“They don’t have the human resources capacity and they’re asking for capacity to address that,” he said. “We need external personnel to come in and help us. We need human resources.”


Bearskin Lake First Nation

A state of emergency was declared last week in Bearskin Lake First Nation, where fewer than 400 people live on reserve, more than 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. (CBC News)


Fox identified manpower to help chop wood as a main priority. About 90 per cent of homes in the community are heated by wood, he said.

Other needs include freight haulers, people to distribute and deliver supplies, and security, he added.

In the last few days, the federal government approved just over $480,000 for food security, personal protective equipment and prevention supplies, isolation accommodation and setup, transportation, and wages for community-based workers.

A spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada said personnel — including three primary-care nurses, one paramedic and two environmental health officers — have been deployed to the community.

‘They need boots on the ground’

Derek Fox, current grand chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, said the Ontario and federal governments have yet to recognize the situation as a crisis.

“There’s no hospitals there to support them, there’s no emergency unit. There’s not even a doctor on call. They sent nurses.”

He also said more help is needed.

“They’ve been calling for the military because obviously they feel that announcement is not enough. They need boots on the ground. They need immediate support, otherwise they’re afraid to see loss of life.”


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