June 3rd, 2020
LETTER: The government must do more to keep First Nations safe
Dear Minister Miller,
I am writing to you today to request clarity regarding the recent funding announcement of $650 million by Indigenous Services for Indigenous communities dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. While Friday’s announcement will help, it highlights how your government has left many communities without critical resources to fight COVID-19 for the last 11 weeks.
Let’s be clear, the ability to keep COVID-19 out of our region is a result of the incredible steps taken by many First Nations to lockdown and restrict mobility. It is not because of the federal government.
Let’s look at your government’s actions to support Indigenous communities since the pandemic began. Initial advice from your government had no understanding of the reality facing Indigenous communities and advised people to wash their hands and self-isolate, ignoring the failures of your government and governments before it to get clean drinking and housing into many First Nations.
Calls to get the military to bring in field hospitals in communities like Cross Lake and Norway House, in the Island Lake region and a ventilator centre in Berens River were ignored. As a result of these actions, many communities continue to face a lack of access to healthcare. As doctors were pulled out from communities that barely have them, First Nations and the Southern Chiefs Organization called on the government to allow Cuban doctors to fill in the gaps. That call was ignored. First Nations in Northern Manitoba called for the Federal government to step in and support a temporary shut down of the Keeyask work camp that was set to put their communities at risk. That call was ignored and it took First Nations to stand up in the face of immense pressure for Manitoba Hydro to back down.
Pukatwatgan was sent tents they didn’t ask for, and they are still asking questions about how this deal came to pass. The National Action Plan on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls sits on a shelf gathering dust.
None of this is surprising given the fact that you weren’t even included as a permanent member of the COVID-19 Cabinet Committee set up by the government.
How much of the $650 million will be earmarked for First Nations, many of which are the poorest in the country? How much of that money will go toward Métis communities? What concrete steps has your department made to ensure that Indigenous communities are being trusted so we don’t repeat the same mistakes of sending tents to a community that didn’t ask for them? Will you finally move to build hospitals in the Island Lake Region or Cross Lake? When will your government deal with the housing crisis and the lack of clean drinking water so that First Nations have the ability to be safe?
As our entire region prepares for a second wave of COVID-19 we are expecting action from your Government not rhetoric. First Nations and Métis communities must be listened to and have their priorities met. This is about saving lives.
MP Niki Ashton