Rangers to help in Shamattawa, as COVID-19 cases in northern Manitoba First Nation climb

The Canadian Armed Forces says it will send six Canadian Rangers to Shamattawa First Nation as COVID-19 cases in the northern Manitoba community skyrocket.

Community has already implemented curfew, mask mandate, closed schools and set up gym as isolation centre

A gymnasium in Shamattawa First Nation has been set up with cots as the Red Cross helps the fly-in community amid surging COVID-19 numbers. The Canadian Armed Forces will also be joining to help. (Submitted by Eric Redhead)

The Canadian Armed Forces says it will be on hand to support the Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba as COVID-19 cases skyrocket.

Chief Eric Redhead said he received a message on Saturday morning from Marc Miller, the federal minister of Indigenous services, confirming that the military "will be activated for Shamattawa."

Miller announced the military's involvement in a tweet later that morning.

In an email to CBC News, the Canadian Armed Forces said approximately six Canadian Rangers will work with community members to address their needs.

Among other tasks, the Rangers will help with providing essentials such as food, firewood and care packages, a spokesperson said.

They'll also provide logistical and general support such as "transportation assistance, resupply and humanitarian assistance," the spokesperson wrote.

No details were provided on where the Rangers will come from, or when they would be deployed to Shamattawa. The Armed Forces said the support has been requested for a 30-day period.

"The Canadian Armed Forces will support the community of Shamattawa until the emergency has abated and the province, along with other federal and private sector resources are able to effectively support the community."

About 1,300 people live in Shamattawa, a fly-in community about 360 kilometres east of Thompson, Man. Local leaders have been calling for military aid for the past week.

Redhead said as of Friday evening, there were 144 COVID-19 cases in his community. The test positivity rate was around 68 per cent earlier this week, Redhead said, but he added that health-care workers have been so busy they haven't been able to provide him with all the latest numbers.

A federal rapid response team of doctors and nurses is in Shamattawa to support its local response team, but the team numbers are dropping, Redhead said.

"Our numbers are dwindling because a lot of them have either tested positive or is a contact [of a positive case], and therefore they're required to self-isolate," he said.

The number of cases in his community keeps growing, despite efforts such as imposing a curfew, a mask mandate, closing the band office and school, and urging people to stay home.

The school gym is being used as an isolation unit for people who test positive. About 24 people can stay there and it is currently at capacity, Redhead has said. Nearly 40 people have now been moved out of the community so they can properly self-isolate, but Redhead says the facilities outside the First Nation are nearing their limits too.

Garrison Settee, grand chief of the northern advocacy organization Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, says he commends Redhead for pressing the government for support.

"All First Nations want to be self-sufficient and we do not want to have to cry out for help, but we are all living in extraordinary times," he said in a release Saturday.

"All levels of government must work together and have ongoing and clear communication to mitigate the risks that come with this deadly virus."

WATCH | Shamattawa asks for military assistance as COVID-19 cases surge:

'We're literally at the breaking point right now'

CBC News Manitoba

5 months ago
The chief of Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba is renewing calls for military aid in his community as the number of people infected with COVID-19 continues to grow. 1:52

With files from Peggy Lam, Nick Frew and Riley Laychuk