February 9th, 2021
COVID-19 Crisis on Pauingassi First Nation Points to Desparate Need for Airport
Today I spoke with Chief Owens, the Chief of Pauingassi First Nation. Pauingassi has been dealing with a major COVID-19 outbreak. There have been 146 cases in a community of about 500 people.
The First Nation has done everything possible to stay safe. They were able to isolate and support those who became sick early on. But unfortunately an outbreak emerged at the end of January. The military is on the ground assisting the community.
The crisis has pointed to the urgent need for an airport in Pauingassi. Pauingassi is an isolated First Nation. One of two communities in Manitoba without a road and an airstrip. People have to rely on a helicopter which is often delayed or cannot land because of weather. One patient with COVID-19 had to wait 17 hours for an air ambulance helicopter to pick them up to seek urgent medical help. This is absolutely unacceptable.
Pauingassi First Nation has been calling for an airport for years. The leadership met with Liberal ministers in 2018 to raise this issue. There has been no commitment.
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the way in which decades of federal austerity and neglect have put First Nations people’s’ lives at risk.
It is time for the Federal Government to recognize that it is absolutely unacceptable that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, that the people of Pauingassi have no airport and were put at risk as a result during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our message is clear. Now more than ever we need to invest in infrastructure, housing and health in First Nations. Building an airport in Pauingassi must be a top priority.