Saskatoon

Sask. has most Indigenous COVID-19 cases in Canada, two different counts find

Both Indigenous Services Canada and Ryerson University's Yellowhead Institute say Saskatchewan has had the most Indigenous COVID-19 cases in Canada.

Researchers say province has had 241 cases in Indigenous communities

A security checkpoint in La Loche, Sask. -- a region that has seen most of Saskatchewan's COVID-19 cases. (Submitted by Raymond Dauvin)

Two sets of numbers, compiled using different methodologies, indicate Saskatchewan has the most Indigenous COVID-19 cases in Canada.

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) only tracks on-reserve numbers.

As of Tuesday, it said Saskatchewan had 49 of the 212 total cases in Canada. Ontario was just behind Saskatchewan with 48.

ISC also said there had been 43 recoveries, three hospitalizations and one death from COVID-19 in the province's First Nations reserves.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller tweeted on Monday that there had been 171 recoveries in reserves across Canada.

Ryerson University's Yellowhead Institute tracks all Indigenous cases in Canada, including those off-reserve and in the Métis population.

The institute gets its data from sources such as media reports and band council updates on social media.

Research fellow Courtney Skye is critical of the federal department's approach.

"What we've found is that number is not sufficiently reflecting the realities of what's happening with the number of Indigenous people that are contracting COVID-19," she said.

"The federal government is drastically underreporting the number of cases."

The institute's numbers, as of Tuesday, say Saskatchewan has an even higher percentage of the country's Indigenous cases than what Ottawa is reporting.

"Through this data collection, we've been able to find just over 600 cases of COVID-19 that have been reported in Indigenous communities — a third of those which are in Saskatchewan," she said.

Skye said the institute has uncovered reports of 241 Indigenous COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan and 613 across the country. Quebec was next with 135 cases, she said.

Even though the La Loche/Clearwater River Dene Nation region accounts for the vast majority of the province's cases with 209, Skye said the institute has found 12 Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan that are publicly reporting COVID-19 cases in their population — including seven First Nations reserves.

She said transmission rates and how these change over time are not reported.

"So it's not clear to us at the institute and it's not clear from the reporting of the federal government on which regions are recovering faster and what rate they're recovering at," she said.

Skye said better data collection from the start of the pandemic "would have changed the reality" for a lot of Indigenous communities, including the La Loche region.

Earlier this month, Miller said he knew ISC's data on Indigenous populations across Canada is only partial as a result of jurisdictional challenges.

"I think we all could do more," he said.

Data on ISC's website says that 30 of Saskatchewan's 49 COVID-19 cases reported on-reserve were recorded between April 26 and May 9. There had been five more cases reported as of Tuesday.

With files from Jorge Barrera and Jessica Deer

About the Author

Kelly Provost is a newsreader and reporter with CBC News in Saskatoon. Email him at kelly.provost@cbc.ca.

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