Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Canada’s most-awarded
newsroom for a reason
Stay informed for a
lot less, cancel anytime
“Exemplary reporting on
COVID-19” – Herman L
per week
for 24 weeks
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Beausoleil staff Saundra Dickson, front, and Rebecca Wright screen Mabel King as she boards a ferry returning to Beausoleil First Nation, Ont., on March 20, 2020.

allen agostino/The Globe and Mail

A week after the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic, Constance Lake First Nation, located about 600 kilometres northwest of Sudbury, declared a state of emergency and cited a lack of health-care personnel and medical supplies.

On Wednesday morning, Chief Rick Allen appeared on a Facebook livestream to assure the 60 or so virtual viewers that the community was not going into a full lockdown. He also encouraged community members to support each other.

But to the federal government, he had a different message.

Story continues below advertisement

“As Indigenous communities, are we a top priority? We have to get some assurance that we are as much a priority as any municipality or any big cities," Mr. Allen said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Many Indigenous communities across Canada share in the heightened state of anxiety over the impact the virus could have and are ramping up preparations. Some have declared states of emergency while others have closed their borders to non-community members to reduce the possibility of community transmission.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said that First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities face a higher risk of “severe outcomes” given health inequities, higher rates of underlying medical conditions and challenges of remote and fly-in communities.

Take, for instance, the fact that Constance Lake has a single nurse to serve the 800 or so on-reserve members, according to Mr. Allen.

While the community is accessible year-round from Highway 11, the nearest hospital in Hearst, Ont., is limited to 44 beds.

Dr. Annelind Wakegijig, a First Nations physician who works in Batchewana First Nation in Northern Ontario, said there is a heightened sense of anxiety about the impact of the coronavirus on Indigenous communities. There are cultural implications, too.

Historically and culturally Indigenous people tend to gather in times of crisis, she said, adding that runs counter to current public-health advice.

Story continues below advertisement

“Now we are dealing with a situation where we are being asked not to gather,” Dr. Wakegijig said.

The latest on the coronavirus: Canada not at the point of declaring federal emergency, Trudeau says; O’Toole calls for delay in Conservative leadership vote

How many coronavirus cases are there in Canada, by province, and worldwide? The latest maps and charts

‘Can I take my kids to the park?’ And more coronavirus questions answered by André Picard

In Photos: Borders close and Canadians self-isolate on the first weekend of the national shutdown

Applying public-health recommendations such as social-distancing practices can be difficult when people share cramped quarters, Dr. Wakegijig added, saying there is concern, too, about clean water for hand-washing in some communities.

“That is impractical in some communities where there isn’t even any safe water to drink or wash hands,” she said.

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told The Globe the level of increased fear in communities is “very real."

The concern manifests itself in a number of ways, he said, including with a feeling that communities will be left behind.

“We are at pains to say they will not,” Mr. Miller said, adding there are intense efforts under way to mobilize resources to ensure there are food and medical supplies, including in fly-in communities.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Miller also pointed to a $305-million support fund announced last week to help address the immediate needs in First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities.

Beausoleil cleaners prepare to clean the ferry returning to Beausoleil First Nation.

allen agostino/The Globe and Mail

Many Indigenous communities have tried to ramp up efforts to prepare for the coronavirus as it spreads in Canada.

Kahkewistahaw First Nation, in southern Saskatchewan, recently began processing emergency payments of $250 to all adult band members, on- and off-reserve.

Beausoleil First Nation, which is located across three islands in Georgian Bay, has started screening people crossing by ferry for symptoms of COVID-19.

The community is restricting ferry access to year-round residents, as the islands are a popular spot for cottagers from Toronto and elsewhere, and asking residents to avoid all non-essential travel.

“It’s tough for all of us to have to put these measures out into our community, and we hope that you respect all these precautions,” Chief Guy Monague said in a Facebook address this week.

Story continues below advertisement

Dr. James Makokis, a family doctor who works in Kehewin Cree Nation, located about 200 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, said the community had only two test kits.

“We should have the capacity to test within the reserve,” he said.

There is also concern in some Indigenous communities about past responses to crises, such as the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.

In the midst of that crisis, several northern First Nations in Manitoba were sent body bags and Health Canada later said it regretted the “alarm” the shipments caused.

St. Theresa Point First Nation was one of the communities to receive body bags. More than 10 years later, it is still waiting for permanent health-care capacity.

“We have asked for a hospital for so many years,” Chief Marie Wood said.

Story continues below advertisement

The community is also waiting on a shipment of goods to help prevent any possible COVID-19 outbreak, including hand sanitizer, soap and cleaning supplies.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he has spoken with a number of Indigenous leaders about their concerns including the state of infrastructure in many communities that makes social distancing, hand-washing and other public-health advice “extremely difficult or impossible” to follow.

Indigenous leaders have told him that health-care capacity in their communities are already stretched to or beyond the breaking point, he said.

Beausoleil First Nation ferry returns to Beausoleil First Nation.

allen agostino/The Globe and Mail

“For a lot of Indigenous communities, there is a sense of fear and a sense of panic and a real need for urgency because the injustice that they are facing right now, the lack of really basic human rights, access to clean drinking water, housing, are all things that are really going to compound a potential outbreak,” Mr. Singh said.

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), a political organization representing 49 First Nation communities in Northern Ontario, said there has been a lack of clarity over the $305-million federal funding package, adding this has complicated preparations.

“Communities have a lot of questions right now, but we don’t have all the answers," he said.

Story continues below advertisement

Time is of the essence, he added, saying there are concerns about accessing essential supplies and the impending closing of winter roads, which will require that goods be transported by plane.

“The window is closing," he said.

Dr. Jane Philpott, a health adviser to NAN and former federal health and Indigenous-services minister, said there is no shortage of goodwill from those trying to tackle the crisis.

But she said she has heard concern among Indigenous leaders about issues including poor infrastructure, which are the source of worry at the best of times.

At a time like this, it could reach “crisis levels,” Dr. Philpott said.

Editor’s note: (March 25, 2020): An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Saundra Dickson's name.
The spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 continues, with more cases diagnosed in Canada. The Globe offers the dos and don'ts to help slow or stop the spread of the virus in your community.

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the authors of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies