Treaty No. 6, Treaty No. 7, and Treaty No. 8 Chiefs (Alberta),

 

These are unprecedented times. Countries have shut down borders, and some are taking drastic measures to contain and limit the spread of the virus to protect their citizens. The World Health Organization reported on March 22, 2020 that there were 335 366 cases worldwide, 14 611 deaths, and 97 594 recovered.  Alberta currently has 226 cases, 11 are hospitalized, 6 are in ICU and there has been one death, a sixty-year old man with travel history.

 

We recognize that if the virus were to get into First Nations communities, it would be particularly devastating. We know all too well that First Nations do not have the same health care support as other Canadians such as: access to testing, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and medical clinics. These factors are exacerbated by poverty, chronic health conditions including addictions, overcrowded housing, access to safe drinking water, and geographical isolation.

 

At the National level, the Executive for the Assembly of First Nations will be declaring a National State of Emergency for First Nations, calling for greater investment into First Nations communities so that First Nations are able to assert their own sovereignty and jurisdiction in order to provide for and protect their communities.

We acknowledge the First Nations that have already declared ‘States of Local Emergency’ and those Nations that have taken steps to protect and secure their borders, and we support your endeavours to keep your communities safe and protect all your members.

 

We would like to take a moment to thank those individuals who are working on the front lines, putting themselves at risk in providing essential services and public health services. Please take all measures necessary to keep yourselves safe.

 

We would also like to acknowledge those individuals that are helping to protect the health of their families, their neighbours, and their communities by self-isolating and taking recommended steps to limit the spread of the virus and to flatten the curve.  Many are doing this by washing hands frequently; sneezing and coughing into elbows; maintaining social distancing guidelines; and staying at home.

 

We must all work together to combat this virus.

 

We understand that First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB-AB) and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC-AB) is in daily communications with provincial and federal authorities (Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services, and the Public Health Agency of Canada), and that FNIHB is providing email bulletins to each nation providing key messages, situational updates on the COVID-19, and details concerns upcoming measures and guidance documents.

 

We have also been advised that in terms of surveillance, if a First Nations member in the public health system were to test positive for COVID-19, then FNIHB would become involved in supporting the tracking, monitoring, and testing of individuals who have been exposed.

 

Access to the $305 million that was recently announced (as we have been advised) is to be based on needs, total citizenship – both on and off reserve, and remote and northern factors.

 

In preparing your plans to access these funds, we would like to encourage First Nations to use the term “ordinarily resident on reserve” to ensure off reserve members are covered. In addition to members off reserve who may be struggling financially due to job loss, you may want to consider the additional needs of members that are sick in urban settings, that may be part of a vulnerable population that want to come back to the reserve – think of every possibility, of what their needs might be, and how you will work together with other jurisdictions to ensure their needs are met. Some examples to consider may be:

●      physically or mentally disabled (e.g., visually or hearing impaired, mobility limitations, cognitive disorders);

●      low literacy;

●      geographically, culturally or socially isolated;

●      low income;

●      medically or chemically dependent;

●      homeless or street-involved; and

●      housebound or frail elders.

 

You may have already considered the costs associated with:

●      Testing on reserve. Some areas in Alberta have implemented drive thru testing centres, and that option should be considered.

●      Repurposing homes or buildings on reserve or bringing in tents and temporary structures for surge capacity or to house vulnerable members. If there are homes or buildings that need to be repurposed to care for quarantined or vulnerable populations, consider all construction and retrofitting costs as well as supports for the individuals which may include access to assessment, treatment, convalescent support, transportation, as well as needs for daily living – beds, supplies, equipment, staffing, food, water.

●      Critical care supplies – masks, gloves, gowns, medicine, and ventilators, which are currently in high demand.

●      Security and border checkpoints - Some nations are putting in more security and checkpoints on their borders. If that is the case, please consider any and all associated costs and put those into your plans – personnel, gas, communication equipment, food, masks, and supplies.

●      Bulk-buying - If your community needs to isolate or has chosen to isolate, you will need to plan your food, water, and medicine needs for a lengthy period of time, and consider how members will pay their bills if they do not have access to employment.

 

I’ve been advised by FNIHB and ISC, that your Pandemic Plans are key in determining the amount of resources each Nation will receive, and that they will be based on need. 

 

There is so much to consider and I would like to encourage Nations that are struggling with putting together their plans to reach out to FNIHB for support. Please contact:

 

Jeff Kresowaty, MPH
Manager, Health Emergency Management
First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Alberta 
Indigenous Services Canada / Government of Canada 
jeff.kresowaty@canada.ca / Tel: 780-495-7809

 

We are also committed to continuing to share federal, provincial, and AFN updates, and sharing public service announcements and campaigns on our website and social media platforms. We will also promote First Nations declarations and messaging to their members on social media. Feel free to contact Ann atann@afnab.ca or Arturo at arturo@afnab.ca and we will help share your updates and announcements.

 

As Regional Chief, I commit to maintaining advocacy efforts on issues that matter to you.  Please feel free to contact me directly.

Finally, if you would like to discuss the potential for calling a Regional State of Emergency for First Nations in Alberta, our office would be pleased to coordinate a videoconference with all willing participants.

 

I am truly amazed by the great work you are doing to protect your communities as you prepare for this pandemic. Remember, our ancestors fought these hard battles for our safety and our survival and they have persevered….their Blood runs through our veins, and, together we shall overcome!

Keep well, and know you and your Nations are in my daily prayers.

 

Kinanaskomitinawaw Kakiyaw,

Regional Chief Marlene Poitras 

 

 

 



Marlene Poitras, Regional Chief
Assembly of First Nations Alberta Association
mpoitras@afn.ca 
Suite 208, 14925 – 111 Avenue NW
Edmonton, AB T5M 2P6
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