On December 29th, 2021, the Bearskin Lake First Nation declared a state of emergency due to an outbreak of COVID 19 infections. As of today, 174 individuals have tested positive – which means almost fifty percent of the on-reserve population is infected. Those infected include the administrative and essential staff of the band’s administration, operations, and maintenance units. The day-to-day operations of the community are crippled.
“The virus is vicious, and it does not discriminate,” said Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin. “Our babies and children, mothers, and Elders have all been hit. We are reeling at the speed of the spread of this potentially deadly disease. This outbreak has stretched our resources and our capacity to the point of breaking.”
Like many impoverished, remote First Nation communities, Bearskin Lake must contend with a poorly resourced public health care system, few nurses, severe overcrowding, and no space to operate testing and isolation centres. The community cannot separate infected people from those that are uninfected, adding to the stress and anxiety and potentially exposing individuals to reinfection.
Currently, the majority of households are under quarantine and require food and water delivery, chopped wood for heating and medication to relieve fever and pain. There is now an urgent need for outside health and other workers to help operate the community’s crisis care system around the clock. Without places available to house outside volunteers, daily flights in and out of the community carrying crisis personnel is essential.
“We have requested financial and other supports from the federal government, but we have been told that the assistance we will get is minimal,” said Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin. “We will not get funds to bring crisis personnel to Bearskin Lake – which signals to us that we are on our own. I must now implore Canada and Canadians for their assistance and request that the military be deployed to us immediately to assist us.”