Nova Scotia

Chief criticizes open schools as We'koqma'q deals with COVID-19 outbreak

The chief of We'koqma'q says the Nova Scotia government should not have opened schools during the latest wave of COVID-19.

Annie Bernard-Daisley says there are 48 active cases in the community

We'koqma'q Chief Annie Bernard-Daisley says it did not make sense for the Nova Scotia government to open schools and businesses during the latest wave of COVID-19. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

The We'koqma'q First Nation in Nova Scotia has shut down some non-essential services as the community deals with a rising number of COVID-19 infections.

Chief Annie Bernard-Daisley said there is no single reason for the outbreak that has so far closed services including the gym and the gaming centre, but she criticized the province's decision to reopen schools during a wave of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

"What's wrong with online learning during this huge outbreak?" Bernard-Daisley said Tuesday.

There were about 3,630 active cases of COVID-19 in the province as of Tuesday, including 48 cases on the We'koqma'q First Nation.

Bernard-Daisley said staff shortages have reduced hours at the gas station and band office in the community.

She said having schools and businesses open in Nova Scotia encouraged people to move around, spreading the coronavirus far and wide. 

"With the provincial rules, the provincial guidelines under Public Health, where's the support when we're trying our best, when everything else is wide open in the province?" said the chief.

"There's practically zero support, especially with the kids going back to school in the province. I've publicly stated I did not agree with that."

Province defends its approach

Last week, the province defended its approach to the Omicron wave.

Officials with Public Health and the Education Department said having kids in school does not greatly increase the risk of spreading a virus that is already in communities. 

Mi'kmaw schools in Nova Scotia shut down and went online in January and are preparing to go back to in-class learning.

Bernard-Daisley said her community is more than 90 per cent double vaccinated, has plenty of testing available, and people willing to deliver essentials to those who are isolating.

"I just feel like we're probably one of the last communities in Nova Scotia to get COVID," she said.

"We've done the absolute best we can as a community in the last two years ... to stand up and protect our people."

Image looking down the highway with a sign in the foreground saying, 'We'koqma'q Mi'kmaw Community.'
A sign welcomes visitors to the Mi'kmaw community of We'koqma'q. Bernard-Daisley says she is proud of Indigenous communities in Nova Scotia for being transparent by posting their new, active and recovered case numbers regularly. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

She said Indigenous communities in Nova Scotia are being transparent by posting their new, active and recovered case numbers regularly.

As of Jan. 27, Eskasoni was reporting 42 active cases and on Jan. 31, Wagmatcook was reporting six. Membertou said it's had 70 cases since Christmas, but most have recovered.

No figures could be found online for Potlotek, the other Indigenous community on Cape Breton Island.

"I'm proud of our First Nation communities for doing that because it's holding us accountable," Bernard-Daisley said.

Nova Scotia Health reports numbers by dividing the province into five large geographical zones.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 36 years. He has spent half of them covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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