Outrage over body bags sent instead of medical supplies

I have always had a lingering disgust with Winnipeg in regards to how they speak of, view, and look down upon their indigenous people and it is ongoing.

In 2009, Ottawa sent body bags to Manitoba, Ontarios neighbouring province, reserves instead of medical supplies. If you can think back that far, you should remember that this was during Swine Flu.

Chief Jerry Knott of Wasagamack First Nation said his community’s nursing station received about 30 body bags and it was disturbing because the community asked for funding so that they could prepare medical supplies during the H1N1 outbreak.

Later, indigenous leaders in Manitoba were horrified that some of the reserves hardest hit by swine flu in the spring received dozens of body bags from Health Canada. It was later questioned if the shipment held a sinister message.

The body bags — which were sent to the remote northern reserves of Wasagamack and God’s River First Nation — came in a shipment of hand sanitizers and face masks.

Grand Chief David Harper, who represented northern First Nations, said the body bags sent the wrong message and no one could understand why Ottawa would do such a thing.

And guess what? History repeats itself, but this time, across the border.

In mid-March, as the Seattle region grappled with the coronavirus outbreak, a community health centre that cared for the area’s indigenous population made an urgent request to county, state and federal health agencies for medical supplies.

What they received three weeks later left staff members stunned and turned most of them white because they were given cadaver body bags, not the requested supplies.

As per May 5, the health board’s centre — serving about 6,000 people a year in Seattle and King County — still had the package, which is filled with the zippered white bags and beige tags that read “attach to toe.”

This happened even though the U.S. government has an obligation to provide health care to all Native American nations as stipulated in longstanding treaties with Indian tribes.

The Treasury and Interior departments announced the distribution Tuesday of $4.8 billion to tribal governments, divvied up based on their census figures. However, “urban Indian” programs are not part of this phase.

The stimulus money was expected to be released before the end of April, as mandated by the law, but a legal feud erupted when tribal governments denounced the idea that Alaska Native corporations, which are for-profit businesses that serve tribal villages, would be allocated some of the funding.

While the Seattle Indian Health Board has the PPE and supplies it needs as of now, staff representatives said that they were disappointed in the lack of aid in those crucial, earlier weeks and have since relied on Native-owned business such as the retail brand Eighth Generation in Seattle for donations to adequately fill the void.

In the states, citizens of colour are at risk for Covid-19 at a rate that is four times higher. And in mid-March, Seattle was at the centre of the US coronavirus outbreak. They had more than 500 positive cases and around 50 deaths.

Indigenous communities are also ripe with elders, the main age-group that is susceptible to the most damage that can be brought by Covid-19, and the most precious as they serve as indigenous language and knowledge carriers. With $450 billion in the U.S., Indian trust fund at any given time, you’d think they could at least send some face masks. I continue to be disgusted.

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