Thunder Bay

Nishnawbe Aski Nation preparing NWO First Nations for COVID-19

The grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation says he's working closely with the federal and provincial governments to prepare northern Ontario First Nations for COVID-19. NAN is currently doing an inventory of the health equipment in its communities to determine the availability of medical devices such as ventilators, Alvin Fiddler said. It's also assessing the need for hygiene products, medications, and other necessities.

Staff are inventorying medical equipment and assessing supplies as feds ready temporary structures

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said staff are involved in daily conference calls with government aimed at preparing communities to tackle COVID-19. (CBC)

The grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation says he's working closely with the federal and provincial governments to prepare northern Ontario First Nations for COVID-19.

NAN is currently doing an inventory of the health equipment in its communities to determine the availability of medical devices such as ventilators, Alvin Fiddler said. It's also assessing the need for hygiene products, medications, and other necessities.

"We're getting calls from chiefs directly asking for those types of products," he said. "Just things like hand sanitizers and masks."

In addition, the organization is consulting with doctors and nurses in its communities to determine their needs, Fiddler said, adding that he's hoping to have a good list of communities' requirements by end-of-day Friday. 

Region staying connected on plans and protocols

Meanwhile, Fiddler just received word from the federal government that it plans to transport temporary structures to the communities, he said, to assist individuals with self-isolation measures in places where homes are frequently overcrowded. 

Details on when the structures and other necessities might be delivered to communities were not yet confirmed as of late Thursday afternoon,  Fiddler said, adding that NAN and the two levels of government are moving as quickly as possible, and so far, communication has been open.

"One of the things that's happened is that there's daily conference calls with their staff and our staff - not just in NAN but across the region," he said. 

Should staff have trouble addressing a situation during those conference calls, Fiddler's role is to escalate the matter to a minister, he added. 

COVID-19 in northern communities could be 'devastating'

Many details still need to be worked out, Fiddler said, such as a strategy for ensuring that community members in need of hospitalization are sent to hospitals with enough capacity to care for them.  

"That's something I've asked both Ontario and Canada is that we all need to agree on a communications protocol," he said. "Our communities, they need to know who to call."

Meanwhile, Fiddler said, he was planning a conference call with chiefs on Friday to provide them with the latest information, and NAN is planning to increase efforts to disseminate accurate information to communities in order to combat confusing or inaccurate information spread on social media. 

Fiddler is unaware of any suspected cases of the virus in NAN communities currently, he said, though concern arose after a Sudbury man who had attended the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada Convention tested positive for the virus. Many representatives from NAN communities were also at the event, and many are staying home, he said.  

Public health officials recently stated that the man was not infectious while at the conference.

"Our nursing stations have been understaffed and under-resourced," Fiddler said, "so my fear is that, if and when it does hit our communities, that it will be devastating... That's why we're calling for mass gatherings to be postponed or cancelled. You know, we're trying to buy as much time as we can for our communities so that they're able to do the preparatory work that they need to do to protect their members."

Two hockey tournaments and a pow wow at Lakehead University have so far been cancelled.

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