Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde says his organization supports First Nations that may choose to keep their borders closed as provinces ramp up economic activity.
Mr. Bellegarde said in a recent interview that some communities are continuing to impose restrictions on travel to essential workers who need to leave and then return.
There is concern about a second wave of the coronavirus, he said, adding this fear has prompted some communities to stockpile food and personal protective equipment in anticipation of it. “There is a fear that if you move too fast too quick all of this may be for nothing," he said.
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said at the onset of the pandemic that First Nations, 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.
Given the heightened level of concern, some communities declared states of emergency while others closed their borders to non-community members to reduce the possibility of community transmission.
For a number of communities, restrictions remain in place.
For example, Constance Bay First Nations Chief Rick Allen appeared in a Facebook update a week ago to explain the plan for his community about 600 kilometres northwest of Sudbury.
“The first update is we will continue to be in lockdown,” he said. “It’s not a bad thing. It is just for the safety of our people.”
He also announced where community members would be able to leave to get essential items. “Our non-community members are still not allowed in," he said.
The national chief said a more prudent approach to an economic ramp-up plan would be to ensure the full inclusion of First Nations people.
“We are still not involved at a lot of the premiers tables meetings discussing these things,” Mr. Bellegarde said.
In an interview, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said he too has heard the concern from Indigenous leadership about the impacts of another wave of the coronavirus in communities.
Mr. Miller said there is apprehension about increasing activity at the provincial level out of concern for the health of community members, but he also stressed that Indigenous leadership wants to be at the table to discuss measures.
“A lot of them depend on the surrounding economy and they want to be at the table and not just simply be the subjects of measures that may not have been tailored for them,” Mr. Miller said.
Indigenous communities have done an exemplary job in confronting the first wave of the pandemic including where there is no access to medical facilities, he added.
“There’s some lessons to be learned there in the ability of a community when COVID expresses itself to stomp it out,” Mr. Miller said, adding some of those could be applied to non-Indigenous communities of a similar size.
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