Six Nations declares emergency, cancels school through to April to combat spread of COVID-19

OHSWEKEN — Six Nations of the Grand River has declared a community emergency Friday and will close all local schools for two weeks, from March 16 through to April 6, in an effort to halt the spread of COVID-19.

The Six Nations Emergency Control Group held a press conference on Friday morning to announce the decision. SNGR Elected Chief Mark Hill said the declaration allows the community to obtain additional resources to help manage the pandemic.

“As Onkwehonwe we are people of resilience. This is not the first time we have come face to face with adversity. We go forward now with full determination to prevent widespread infection here in our community and support our community members who need our help,” said Chief Hill.

The school closure affects all of Six Nations Federal Schools: Emily C. General School, Jamieson Elementary, J.C. Hill School, Oliver M. Smith – Kawenniio and I. L. Thomas Elementary. Six Nations Kawenní:io-Gawęní:yo Private School will also close until April 6th. The Everlasting Tree School had not made a final decision whether to close or re-open after March Break as of Friday evening.

Six Nations did not confirm if the community’s daycare centres will also close, but Communications Officer Candace Lickers said SNGR was discussing Friday evening whether to close the two child care facilities.

“Of particular concern in the community is the protection of Six Nations elders and traditional knowledge keepers,” said Director of Six Nations Health Services Lori Davis Hill. Hill says additional precautionary measures are being taken at Six Nations Iroquois Lodge, a long-term care facility on the reserve, which is already experiencing an influenza outbreak.

“Today we come together as Onkwehonwe to do everything we can to protect our people. This means protecting our Elders and knowledge keepers. This means protecting our children. This is how we have always kept our communities strong, and it’s how we will do so in the face of the current emergency,” said Hill.

Six Nations is feeling the squeeze of coronavirus preparations along with the rest of the area. The aisles of Ohsweken Pharmasave were absolutely cleared out of items like toilet paper, Lysol wipes and rubbing alcohol by Friday morning. Pharmacy staff said they expect shortages to be resolved by Tuesday when new shipments of those items are expected.

SNGR says protocols to ensure community safety are being co-ordinated, including emergency mental health supports for those who contract the illness and may become held in isolation and considerations for how to provide clean drinking water to residents.

Hill said Six Nations can help to slow the pandemic through actions like regular hand washing and cleaning commonly touched surfaces.

The emergency means Six Nations Emergency Control Group will be meeting daily and providing regular updates to the community.

Chief Hill said there is a possibility public buildings could be closed and community events could be postponed in the coming days.

Cleaning staff work to disinfect the White Pines Health Centre in Ohsweken Friday as part of the effort to prevent community transmission of COVID-19 on Six Nations.

SNGR says there will be a local testing facility for COVID-19 set up on Six Nations for band members who suspect they have contracted the illness. Anyone who experiences a fever, cough, shortness of breath or have concerns they have become exposed during recent travel should call Ohsweken Public Health at 519-445-2672.

Six Nations Fire Chief Matt Miller gave a warning to community members not to be alarmed at the sight of first responders in the community, who will be wearing additional safety gear during the outbreak to ensure the safety of community paramedics and other emergency response team members.

Ottawa announced nearly $20 billion dollars of economic aid for Canadians and another $100 million to provide for First Nations communities to battle COVID-19. Chief Hill said SNGR has not yet discussed how federal aid will be available to Six Nations businesses or band members but says that is one of the items the council will be discussing in the coming days.

Ottawa’s plans to respond to possible COVID-19 outbreaks in remote, fly-in and already vulnerable Indigenous communities are getting a failing grade from Opposition politicians who say they display a troubling misunderstanding of the needs and conditions in these areas.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told a legislative committee Thursday the remote Indigenous communities are at greater risk when it comes to COVID-19, due to overcrowded housing, food insecurity and poverty linked to poor health outcomes.

Many Indigenous communities also do not have local doctors or hospitals and must be flown to urban centres to be treated for serious conditions, which makes them additionally vulnerable.

He also says the federal government is ready to pay what it costs to bring in additional health workers and give Indigenous communities bottled water, protective equipment and hand sanitizer to help with prevention, and set up isolation tents if a lack of housing prevents self-isolating at home.

NDP MP Niki Ashton says she believes this response is not taking First Nations realities seriously, stressing that treating sick people in Canada’s North in tents is not realistic.

Conservative Senator Dennis Patterson, who represents Nunavut, also scoffed at the idea of tents in the North at this time of year.

He also believes the $100 million that Ottawa has earmarked for COVID-19 response for First Nations and Inuit communities will not be enough.

So far, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the North.

-with CP files

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