Indigenous Services Canada Update on Bearskin Lake

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Eagle Flying Indigenous News

THUNDER BAY – INDIGENOUS – Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) is working closely with Bearskin Lake First Nation leadership, Windigo First Nations Tribal Council, the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority (SLFNHA), the Province of Ontario and the local public health unit to ensure continued support for the community as they respond to their Covid-19 outbreak.

Andrew MacKendrick, a spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada tells NetNewsLedger, “Daily calls among the partners continue to take place in order to reassess the situation, identify gaps and ensure required supports are available.

“On December 23, 2021, Indigenous Services Canada approved a SLFNHA request on behalf of their communities, including Bearskin Lake First Nation, for $25,280,799 to provide isolation capacity, supplies and transportation for materials scheduled to come up the winter road. This brings SLFNHA pandemic related funding to a total of over $66.7 million since March 2020.

“On December 30, ISC deployed a Rapid Response Team with access to a GeneXpert automated molecular testing device answering the call for urgent testing at the start of the outbreak. ISC immediately increased nursing resources in the community on the same day.

“In response to funding requests from Bearskin Lake and Windigo Tribal Council, the first week of January 2022, ISC provided $1.2 M for food security; PPE and other prevention supplies; additional isolation accommodation and set-up; transportation; wages for community-based workers; airport, winter road and community perimeter security personnel and associated costs; community security; and for the safe transportation by air of volunteers and paid service providers.

“On January 7, SLFNHA sent in security personnel to assist with security and provide other duties such as wood cutting and delivering supplies, meals and packages. Windigo Tribal Council has people on the ground providing supports in community. These additional on-the-ground supports are meeting needs identified by community leadership, including, but not limited to, receiving supplies, food and wood delivery, and providing security in the community for households in isolation. ISC officials are working with partners to help coordinate these supports”.

ISC is working with partners to ensure adequate testing supplies and capacity. Ontario Health North has provided an additional 1,000 rapid tests, and 1,500 more are expected. Over 660 tests have been processed since the outbreak began.

On January 7, a medical vehicle was delivered to the community and two (2) additional vehicles arrived in the community on the evening of January 9. These vehicles will assist with the transportation of support workers and the delivery of goods.

The Windigo Mental Health team is providing virtual support to the community, including three language speakers. ISC provided NAN Hope Line contact information to be distributed to community members.

ISC helped coordinate additional resources in the community. These resources include:
· Registered nurses and advanced care paramedics from ISC,

· Bearskin First Nation band members from Thunder Bay and Community Disaster Relief Ontario employees from NGO Alliance;
· Team Rubicon members assisted with cutting wood for fuel and providing fire safety monitoring;

· Public health nurses from the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority

· Home Care Nurses from Windigo First Nations Tribal Council;

· Community members paid by ISC are receiving and delivering food and essential supplies to affected households.

Matawa Tribal Council nurses in Thunder Bay were coordinating and conducting COVID-19 tests for all passengers before boarding flights to enter the community.

Following a virtual reconnaissance of the situation held with the community on January 7, the Canadian Armed Forces sent a team to conduct an on-site assessment in the community on January 8, 2022. Following this assessment, seven Canadian Rangers have been authorized to deploy to Bearskin Lake First Nation, as of January 10.

The Canadian Rangers on the ground will support with the following tasks, as outlined in the Request for Assistance:

· Integrate into the local Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) command post in the community to coordinate activities with the Chief and his Council and other partners;
· Provide limited logistical and limited general support to include, but not limited to, transportation assistance, resupply and humanitarian assistance;
· Support the community in the distribution of real-life-support requirements such as food, water, firewood and care packages;
· Assist with the distribution of information from community, provincial and federal entities related to personal protective health measures and layered risk mitigation strategies;
· Where necessary, conduct community wellness checks; and
· Provide limited assistance to establish a local Alternative Isolation Area

This deployment is authorized for an initial two-week period from January 9-23, 2022, with the possibility of a seven (7) day extension.

ISC continues to work with Bearskin Lake First Nation and all First Nation communities who are struggling in the wake of this latest COVID-19 wave. Following community reports, we are cautiously optimistic that members of Bearskin Lake First Nation are feeling supported and their needs are being met in terms of case and contact management and testing; as well as meeting their food and personal supply requirements. ISC remains committed to ensuring Bearskin Lake First Nation is fully supported throughout their COVID-19 outbreak.

ISC and Indigenous community partners thank healthcare professionals and individuals who continue to support communities during these exceptional times.

Additional information on support provided

· In response to funding requests received December 31, 2021, to support Bearskin Lake First Nation’s COVID-19 outbreak, ISC has provided $1.12 million in additional funding to address community needs.

o The request from Windigo Tribal Council on behalf of Bearskin Lake First Nation was reviewed on an urgent basis, and Chief Kamenawatamin was informed January 1, 2022, that $483K was approved for food security, PPE and prevention supplies, isolation accommodation and set-up, transportation, and wages for community-based workers

o On January 3, 2022, an additional $415K was approved for Bearskin Lake First Nation, to put in place airport security, winter road, community perimeter security personnel and associated costs.

o On January 4, ISC approved an additional $217K in needs-based funding to provide enhanced community security by funding community peacekeepers and for transportation to and from the community by air for volunteers and service providers.

· Including the funding mentioned above, ISC has allocated over $5 million to support the community’s COVID-19 response directly or through Windigo First Nations Tribal Council since March 2020, over and above regular, ongoing program funding to Bearskin Lake First Nation. This targeted COVID-19 funding has supported food security, community response and prevention, mental health and wellness needs, social programs, the safe use and operation of community infrastructure, and Indigenous early learning and childcare.

The Government of Canada’s top priority is the health and safety of all Canadians, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been actively working with partners to support Indigenous Peoples and communities in preparing and responding to COVID-19. We recognize that First Nation, Inuit and Métis are among the most at risk and face unique challenges in addressing COVID-19, and that Indigenous leadership, governments and organizations are best placed to determine the needs of Indigenous Peoples and to develop community-based solutions that respond to these challenges.

ISC is in close contact and communicates regularly with Chiefs and others in communities to share information and ensure needed supports are in place.

ISC continues to engage with First Nations leadership, First Nations health organizations, the Province, and other community partners to provide funding and assistance in the case of a State of Emergency or Request for Assistance due to the spread of COVID-19.

ISC remains committed to supporting remote and isolated communities in their emergency preparation and response efforts and to ensuring that communities have the necessary supplies, equipment and health care supports in order to respond to cases of COVID-19.

Mental wellness support in community

The ISC-funded Nishnawbe Aski Nation Mental Health Wellness Support Access Program (NAN Hope) is available for Bearskin Lake First Nation community members. It provides community-driven, culturally appropriate and timely mental health and addictions support to members of the 49 First Nations communities in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Territory. The NAN Hope program is accessible 24/7 via a toll-free phone line, and offers live web-chat and text support through the website and Facebook Messenger. NAN Hope is also coordinating with the community to send additional in person mental health workers to provide support.

For Hope for Wellness Help Line, Indigenous Services Canada does not do a breakdown of calls by province. However, since March 2020 until the end of December 2021, Hope for Wellness Help Line counsellors answered 3,760 calls and online chats directly related to COVID-19.