Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Manitoba Health is working with First Nations organizations to collect and share information on their community members who test positive for COVID-19, while urban Indigenous and Métis leaders say they're waiting to get such information.
"We don't have it. I can't think of any reason not to share it," said Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg president Damon Johnston, who is part of an urban Indigenous coalition that pushed for a COVID-19 testing site to be opened at Circle of Life Thunderbird House.
He's not sure if the province has enough information collected on non-status urban Indigenous people to share.
"I don't think they have the data yet," he said.
Manitoba public health nurses on April 3 began asking all who tested positive for the virus if they identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit. On April 28, the province signed an agreement to share that information with the Manitoba First Nations' pandemic response co-ordination team, which includes the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Southern Chiefs Organization, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. and the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba.
It didn't include organizations such as the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg or the Manitoba Metis Federation, representing an estimated 150,000-plus Indigenous Manitobans.
"If they're gathering their data on our people, they're not telling me who they're collecting it from," Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand said Wednesday. "When we don't know what's out there, we're fishing in the dark."
He wondered what public health officials will do if there is an outbreak in a rural or urban Métis community such as the one happening next door in northern Saskatchewan.
"Look at La Loche," he said.
An outbreak in the Dene-Métis community has left at least two people dead.
"The Métis are getting a pounding," Chartrand said.
The deal signed with Manitoba First Nations organizations last week will see them receive daily reports on those who test positive that include age, gender, pre-existing conditions, if they're on or off reserve, the location of diagnosis and death rate.
"Having access to this information will help First Nations better plan for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic," MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a news release Wednesday.
"This information sharing agreement is the first of its kind in Canada, and respects the principles of data ownership, control, access and possession and First Nations data sovereignty," Manitoba's chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said in a press release issued Tuesday by the First Nations pandemic response co-ordination team.
When asked Wednesday if the Métis will be getting such information, Roussin wasn't clear.
"There's a large collaboration that's been in place. An agreement was signed with many Indigenous partners... I don't have specifics of the MMF, where they lie in it," he said.
Information collected about Indigenous Manitobans, Roussin has made clear, will not be shared with the public, unless the province's Indigenous partner — the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs — agrees to it.
"This is unbelievable they would hide this information," said Chartrand. He said Métis live in close-knit groups in Manitoba cities and rural areas and need to make informed decisions about COVID-19.
"They'd love to know —- to solve the problem, to help out, or to at least help by staying away."
Both Métis and urban Indigenous leaders said they want to know the impact of the coronavirus on their communities, and pointed to U.S. data shared with the public showing African and Indigenous Americans are hardest hit.
"Indigenous people in Manitoba as a whole have the worst social determinants of health of all Canadians," said Johnston. Collecting and sharing data is going to be key to coming up with a strategy to improve that, he said.
"We need to work with Indigenous leadership across Manitoba to bring more positive change for all of us," Johnston said. In Winnipeg where the urban Indigenous population is expected to grow to 114,000 by 2021, non-profit and charitable organizations providing health and social services to them are going to have to be especially strategic.
"We're going to face now some very tough economic times, and resources are going to be much scarcer," he said.
There are positive and negative implications for going public with COVID-19 testing data, said a Manitoba regional chief who co-chairs the Assembly of First Nations COVID-19 task force.
"On the positive side, we do need that true data for First Nations leaders to make informed decisions about the protection of their citizens," Kevin Hart said Wednesday.
On the other hand, when cases are announced in a district, that may result in "scapegoating and singling out people and some of the racism that's occurred," Hart said.
"Some of our most vulnerable and impoverished people are northerners who are already subject to discrimination."
One medical expert who agreed to comment anonymously questioned whether that provincial data would ever be made public.
"If rural and urban Indigenous communities become infected in a second wave, then we will see a very bad situation unfolding in front of our eyes — like Island Lake in 2008-2009 —- and then we will not need collected data, we will see a disaster."
In Island Lake, a deadly H1N1 outbreak overwhelmed the remote community.
"I hope this does not happen. This virus is rather unpredictable," the expert said.
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.
Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.
To those who have made donations, thank you.
To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.
The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.
After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.
If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.
We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.