Concern growing among northern Indigenous leaders about COVID-19 outbreak

WINNIPEG — A COVID-19 outbreak in northern Manitoba is a growing concern for the MKO and other Indigenous leaders and they are calling on all levels of government to step in.

Manitoba Hydro said 23 workers in the Keeyask Generating Station have tested positive for COVID-19 and another eight workers have “unclear” results and are awaiting second test results.

There is a total of 55 workers that are in isolation.

“Our worst fears have come true and we need the Government of Canada to step in and help us ensure First Nations will be kept safe from the uncontrollable epidemic that is being allowed to continue at the Manitoba Hydro site,” said Doreen Spence, who is the chief of Tataskweyak Cree Nation.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised the federal government is monitoring the situation closely.

“We expect work on the Manitoba Hydro project to follow health advice to keep workers and Indigenous communities safe. We will support First Nations leadership in working with their partners on measures appropriate to protect their communities,” said Trudeau.

“They say they have control. What control do they have?” asked Fox Lake Chief Morris Beardy. “They have control of what is being submitted to us, and what is being given to us as far as information, it is pretty vague.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said he has lost all confidence in Manitoba Hydro’s testing process.

“We’ve made attempts to actually call upon the credibility of their testing mechanism, which pales in comparison to the collaborative testing process that we’ve developed with our provincial and federal partners,” said Dumas.

Leaders feel Manitoba Hydro and Public Health have been too slow in reducing the risk of COVID-19 spreading.

MKO said the first case was confirmed in late October and the First Nations are seeking detailed steps from the province.

“We want assurances from Manitoba Hydro that they will contain this epidemic in the most drastic measures necessary,” said Dr. Barry Lavalee, who is the medical expert and CEO of the health entity Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin.

Hydro said its company took immediate action to address the spread of COVID-19.

Officials with the company said they have stopped the movement of inbound workers and are only keeping enough staff on-site to maintain the critical project.

In a statement to CTV News, Minister of Crown Services Jeff Wharton said:

“Manitoba Hydro continues to coordinate with Public Health and Keeyask Cree Nation partners in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and has adapted action as needed. Protecting the safety and well-being of staff working at the Keeyask Project Site and residents in the local communities is our government’s top priority.”

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