Pictured: Chief Dean Sayers and Former Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald
By Ashley Albert

First Nations across Ontario watched closely as COVID-19 began spreading across Canada last year. Leadership in First Nations communities were on high alert, considering many First Nations citizens fit into the high-risk categories for COVID-19 complications.

Indigenous populations have a high proportion of citizens with underlying medical conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. Combined with the ongoing crises in First Nations communities, such as overcrowding in homes and lack of clean water, this meant that leadership needed to act quickly to stop COVID-19 from entering and spreading in their communities—and act quickly, they did.

While First Nations leadership across Ontario worked to stop the spread of COVID-19 from entering their communities by implementing Emergency Response Groups, community testing, border restrictions, and more, they remained cautious, given their history with past pandemics.

Given the history of health service overwhelm in Indigenous communities, the Ontario Regional Chief’s office began sending information to communities in early March 2020. According to Colleen Seary, former Director of Policy (COVID-19 Initiatives) for the Office of the Ontario Regional Chief, the COO has provided this information through daily, weekly and monthly COVID-19 updates. They have been tracking all COVID-19 cases in Ontario, including in First Nations communities and the local public health units. They follow resolved cases, deaths, and active cases to share with First Nations.

Sharing this information with First Nations lets them know of any potential hotspots near their communities. If a hotspot is located nearby, they can notify and advise their community members to take extra precautions when leaving the community.

While leadership worked with frontline workers in their communities to get preventive measures in place, the COO quickly sent out information that helped communities make decisions based on the guidance from the local public health units. The data shows that First Nations leadership’s preventive measures worked to keep COVID-19 at bay. The low number of COVID-19 cases in First Nations communities can be attributed to the quick actions of leadership to prevent the spread of the virus.

In Fort William First Nation, an urbanized community in Northern Ontario, having zero cases is a point of pride. “We have done everything to protect our community and that is something a lot of communities can be proud of—the work we did to keep everyone safe,” says Chief Peter Collins.

As the pandemic stretches into a fourth wave, Ontario has begun seeing a resurgence of active COVID-19 cases across the province. It is vital that everyone avoids complacency and uses the early pandemic experience to move forward into a “new normal” and keep vulnerable citizens safe. The responses from First Nations communities across the province have so far proven to be successful. So long as leadership remains vigilant, these communities may continue to see positive results as they continue to march into an unprecedented future.

Read the full story at chiefs-of-ontario.org

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The main objective of the Chiefs of Ontario office is to facilitate the discussion, planning, implementation and evaluation of all local, regional and national matters affecting the First Nations people of Ontario.

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