May 12th, 2020
LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER: On the Keeyask work camp, First Nations must be supported
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
I am writing to you, asking your Government to act on the serious concerns raised by First Nations with regards to the operations of work camps, in particular the Keeyask Hydro construction camp here in Northern Manitoba.
Your Government has clearly acknowledged the vulnerability of First Nations to COVID-19. First Nations in our region and across the country have taken the initiative to keep their communities safe, including restricting access into and out of their communities. First Nations are particularly concerned they are at risk as a result of the continued operation of work camps in their territories, which include workers from their communities. The outbreak in La Loche in Saskatchewan has heightened this concern as it began with a worker returning from a work camp that had an outbreak.
Here in our region, the four First Nations partners in the Keeyask project have been expressing concern about the nature of Keeyask’s operations during this pandemic for some time. Tataskweyak Cree Nation, York Factory First Nation, War Lake First Nation and Fox Lake Cree Nation sounded the alarm on March 17, 2020. In response, Manitoba Hydro took certain measures to reduce the workforce and lock down the camp. Unfortunately, contrary to their own plan, they admitted new workers a month later. Now Manitoba Hydro, without proper consultation with the First Nations, is ramping up the workforce to 1200 people. While they have outlined some measures to prevent COVID-19, the First Nations have expressed serious concern about the lack of consultation and the inadequacy of the measures being proposed.
Let’s be clear, work camps including Keeyask, involve workers from across Canada and even from other countries. These workers must cross international and interprovincial boundaries to get to these work camps. Most of the contractors arriving at Keeyask would be arriving from jurisdictions that have far more cases of COVID-19 than Manitoba. They would also be coming to our northern region which is under a travel ban on non-essential travel. Our region is extremely vulnerable. We cannot afford to see the virus spread In Northern Manitoba at a time when we need to be doing everything we can to remain vigilant.
People in our region have welcomed your comments urging caution when it comes to reopening the economy. The federal government has a particular responsibility in terms of the impact of measures to re-open the economy on First Nations. The federal government has a fiduciary obligation to First Nations. The federal government also has jurisdiction in terms of inter-provincial transportation and emergency measures.
We must do everything possible to support First Nations at this time. That is why I am asking you as the Prime Minister and your Government to intervene in support of their calls.
I would urge you to work with First Nations in our region to ensure their safety and the safety of our vulnerable region at this critical time.
MP Niki Ashton