A 2020 review: Six Nations response to the COVID-19 pandemic

SIX NATIONS — This has definitely been a year for the history books. TRT is taking a look back at 2020 and how the Six Nations of the Grand River community has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

March 13, 2020 – Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council declares a state of emergency in the community as Covid-19 fears began to take on a serious tone in the province and across the country. The World Health Organization had just declared the virus a pandemic two days earlier, on March 10, 2020. All Six Nations schools and facilities are ordered closed. At the time, the closure was only to last until April 6. Schools remain closed to this day. There were no confirmed cases on Six Nations at the time but one possible exposure of an employee at Kawenni:io-Gaweni:yo private school.

March 24, 2020 – Six Nations Fire Services announces negative Covid tests for 12 firefighters after an exposure scare for one member of the fire service. Meanwhile, Six Nations began preparing its pandemic response by converting the community centre into a Covid-19 testing and treatment facility. The community remained in a tight lockdown, with many businesses, schools and all but essential services remained shut. Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council had stopped meeting in person.

March 28, 2020 – Community members took action to block off all entrances to the reserve, ahead of SNGR Council’s schedule of March 31, to stop the spread of Covid-19 in the community. Travel was restricted to Six Nations members and essential workers only. Checkpoints manned by Six Nations people were set up at reserve entrances to monitor travellers in and out of the community and an informal paper pass system was instituted to identify community members and essential workers. The community action came after throngs of visitors flooded the reserve that weekend seeking to stock up on discount cigarettes before the planned March 31 shutdown. There are still zero confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Six Nations.

April 8, 2020 – Six Nations is reporting nine positive cases of Covid-19 on the reserve. Demographic information, such as age and gender, is withheld by Six Nations Health Services. Across Canada, there are 17,049 confirmed cases, 345 deaths and 3212 cases considered “resolved.” Norfolk and Haldimand County prohibit anyone from using any outdoor space. The entire economy on Six Nations has ground to a halt and checkpoints set up the previous week at reserve entrances are manned by paid security personnel. Masks have not yet become a way of life but people are starting to sew their own. The only businesses open are off-reserve supermarkets and local convenience stores. Six Nations Public Works announces the waiving of all fees for water services, and Six Nations Housing announces a temporary waiving of payments on mortgages until April 30.

April 15, 2020 – Six Nations’ first and only Covid-19 death has been reported. As of April 14, the community had conducted 140 tests, with 112 negative results, 9 positive results, and seven cases resolved.

April 22, 2020 – Six Nations Police were called to a large gathering at a private home on April 18, drawing ire from community members who see the gathering as deliberately flouting efforts to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in the community. No charges are laid against the homeowner.

April 29, 2020 – Two more cases of Covid-19 are reported on Six Nations, bringing the total numbr of confirmed cases to 11. The Covid-19 assessment centre at the community hall has conducted 320 tests to date. Six Nations rents a generator for $240,000 to provide power to the community hall in the event of a power failure. The first positive Covid-19 case is reported at neighbouring Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

May 6, 2020 – A colour-coded paper pass system allowing Six Nations members to enter and exit the still-barricaded community is replaced with a high-tech barcode system developed and paid for by SNGR. There were reports of fraud and photocopying of the colour-coded paper system which people placed on their dashboards. Checkpoint security on Six Nations are equipped with smartphones to scan barcodes on laminated passes, which were handed out to community en masse in a drive-through operation at the Six Nations Bingo Hall parking lot on Sat. May 2. SNGR announces it will deliver iPads to Six Nations, along with a data package, to help them learn from home, as school closures extended until the end of the year. SNGR Child and Family Services announces the delivery of instant messaging support to help people cope with isolation and economic-related crises during the shutdown. Over 4,000 people have died across Canada.

May 13, 2020 – Six Nations Elected Council discusses the development of a health and safety code of conduct for businesses to follow as it considers a re-opening plan for the community.

May 20, 2020 – SNGR held an unprecedented community-wide delivery of thousands of loaves of bread and hunks of cheese to replace the beloved annual Bread and Cheese Day celebration that usually draws thousands of visitors to the Six Nations Community Hall for fun and revelry. The event, like every other event on Six Nations this year, had been cancelled to prevent the gathering of crowds and spread of Covid-19. Masked councillors drove throughout the community delivering the goods to residents’ households.

June 3, 2020 – After a long stretch without any cases, Six Nations reports three more positive Covid-19 cases, bringing the total number of positive cases to date to 14. It is the lowest case count in Southern Ontario. To date, 745 people had been tested for Covid-19 on Six Nations.

June 17, 2020 – Blockades to reserve entrances are removed. Roads are reopened as are most businesses – but with rules and regulations in effect. Masks must be worn in all businesses on the reserve. Indoor dining is still banned. Sports fields and outdoor recreation remained closed. A small group of people insisted on trying to keep entrances to the reserve closed before giving up later in the week.

June 24, 2020 – Six Nations moves into Phase 2 of its reopening which meant many activities and gatherings involving crowds of more than 10 remained off limits. Fairs and festivals were cancelled into the summer and fall despite a provincial drop in Covid cases. Six Nations had gone weeks without a new positive case of Covid-19.

July 15, 2020 – For the first time in over a month, Six Nations reported one positive case of Covid-19. Ontario began Stage 3 of its re-opening plan, which allowed up to 100 people to gather outside. The relaxed restrictions on crowds saw the push for masks advocated across Ontario and Six Nations. Iroquois Lodge celebrated 17 weeks of being virus-free.

July 22, 2020 – Six Nations, Brantford and Brant saw an unprecedented week of no new Covid cases. Infection rates in young adults began to rise in Ontario, prompting health experts to urge continued social distancing and mask wearing. Businesses around the province have re-opened. The only restrictions remaining on Six Nations are large gatherings and sporting events. Six Nations elected council, however, continue to hold meetings via the online meeting platform Zoom. They have still not met in person since the state of emergency was declared in the spring.

July 29, 2020 – Masks are officially made mandatory at all businesses on Six Nations after a vote by Six Nations Elected Council. Active cases remain at zero. Life feels like it’s returning to a new normal.

Aug. 5, 2020 – Six Nations Elected Council decides to remain in phase two of its recovery and re-opening plan. Despite a continued easing of restrictions across the province, Six Nations remained a bit more restricted by continuing to ask staff to work from home and the continued closure of public, band-operated buildings. The province announces that students will be returning to school full-time in September. Six Nations does not follow suit.

Aug. 12, 2020 – One new case of the virus was confirmed on Six Nations after weeks without a case. It is the 16th case of Covid-19 on Six Nations.

Aug. 26, 2020 – Six Nations Elected Council announced Six Nations schools would not re-open until at least November. Schools still remain closed on the reserve, with kids learning from home. Off-reserve schools re-opened in September.

Sept. 2, 2020 – Six Nations instituted a stage “2.5” in re-opening the community. Outdoor playgrounds and facilities were reopened, and outdoor gathering limits had increased to 40. It was a halfway step between stage 2 and stage 3. Stage 3 would have meant a full re-opening.

Sept. 23, 2020 – The Six Nations track and sports fields finally re-opened since their closure in March. The ball hockey rink also re-opened for reserved use.

Oct. 7, 2020 – Six Nations saw an alarming leap in Covid-19 cases after months of relatively few infections. Five new cases were reported in one week, prompting Six Nations health officials to urge the community not to become lax with physical distancing and other prevention measures. It brought the total number of cases to 22 since the pandemic began.

Oct. 13, 2020 – Coronavirus cases explode on Six Nations. An outbreak brought 47 new active cases to the reserve. It was a jump from 7 active cases to 47 over the course of the Thanksgiving weekend. Six Nations Health Services condemned the community for ignoring public health advice to not meet over the holiday weekend.

Oct. 21, 2020 – Six Nations is declared to be facing a “second wave” of Covid-19 in the community. The total cases to date had reached 69, with 31 active cases after a massive outbreak the week before. The outbreak prompted Six Nations elected council to prolong school closures, enforcing mandatory mask measures and reducing gathering sizes in the community.

Oct. 28, 2020 – the Thanksgiving outbreak had started to wane, with active cases subsiding to 23. Total reported cases to date: 88. Total deaths still remain at one.

Nov. 4, 2020 – Five new Covid-19 cases are confirmed on Six Nations with 9 active cases. Ontario institutes a colour-coded system that sees different areas of the province abide by different measures according to their case counts.

Nov. 11, 2020 – Zero new cases and zero active infections on Six Nations. 93 cases of the 94 total to date are considered resolved.

Dec. 2, 2020 – As cases surge aross the province, Six Nations infection rates remain extremely low. Only one active case of the virus is reported on the territory. To date, there have been 97 infections on Six Nations. Six Nations institutes its own colour-coded system to issue “alert levels” for virus cases on the territory and the measures that would accompany those alert levels.

Dec. 9, 2020 – A long-awaited Covid vaccine was approved by Health Canada, with priority given to health care workers and elders in Indigenous communities for the first batch of the vaccine. The vaccine has not yet arrived on Six Nations.

Dec. 16, 2020 – Six Nations Elected Chief declares the new Covid vaccine is a personal choice and will not be mandatory for any Six Nations member once it arrives on Six Nations. There is no word on when the vaccine will arrive yet. Six Nations Elected Council discusses re-opening schools for in-person learning in February.

Dec. 23, 2020 – Two active cases are reported on the territory, while the government of Ontario announces a total lockdown of the province, with all but essential businesses ordered closed by Boxing Day. In September, teachers had returned to schools to provide remote learning to Six Nations students but Indigenous Services Canada announced on Dec. 21 that Six Nations teachers would not be returning to school after the Christmas holiday to support lockdown efforts across the province. They are expected to return Jan. 11. As of Dec. 22 there were two active cases of Covid-19 on the territory. That brings the total number of cases reported to date to 102 on Six Nations.

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