March 18th, 2020
Letter to Minister Miller on coronavirus
Dear Minister Miller,
This is to follow up with my letter calling on your government to do more to keep First Nations, Métis and Northern communities safe in the face of COVID-19.
My office has been reaching out to Leaders across our region to see where we can help. We’ve identified repeated problems that we wanted to bring to your attention. Far too many communities don’t have access to necessary medical supplies, hand sanitizers, gloves or masks. They also lack ventilators. Far too many are not hearing enough from Indigenous Services. In some communities, we’re hearing about shortages of diapers and formula.
Others are reporting a lack of food. Many communities are concerned that there are only three testing sites across our region, which makes it difficult to identify the sick. Communities that already lack all weather roads, proper housing and running water desperately need support in terms of infrastructure.
I have been relaying these gaps to your department and appreciate the work they are doing to respond but many of these long standing issues must be solved. First Nations, Métis and Northern communities don’t have time to wait. I will also include what we have discovered.
An additional important step you could take would be to ensure proper infrastructure. People need a proper place to self-isolate and seek treatment - these spaces are non-existent in communities with a housing crisis and limited public space. This should include modular structures that can withstand the climate in our North at this time and be conducive to people who are ill and trying to get better.
Commitments must include building hospitals for the regions that desperately need them. Your government made a major announcement in Cross Lake on July 6 2016 to build a major health centre. Nothing has been built. They need a hospital. The other region that desperately needs a hospital is the Island Lake Region. On January 18th, 2020, you met with leaders from the Island Lake region who submitted a formal proposal to fund and build a hospital. The Island Lake region has a population of 13,000 but no hospital. Moving quickly to get these hospital built will not only keep members of this community safer from COVID-19, it will also improve the long-term health of people across our region.
People across our region are worried and scared. People know our region is more vulnerable than most. We need to see urgent federal action. During Question Period on March 12, 2020, in response to a question I asked, you said that support for Indigenous communities will not be limited by financial capacity. It’s time to show it.
MP Niki Ashton (Churchill--Keewatinok Aski)