Number of COVID-19 cases reported in Indigenous communities more than doubles

The number of positive cases of COVID-19 on reserves and among Inuit has more than doubled since last week, according to Indigenous Services Canada.

35 cases reported in Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan on reserves and among Inuit

Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller speaks at a news conference on COVID-19 at West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in March. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The number of positive cases of COVID-19 in Indigenous communities across the country has more than doubled since last week, according to Indigenous Services Canada (ISC).

Last Thursday, ISC reported 15 cases. As of Monday, the department said it was aware of four cases reported in Saskatchewan, 11 in Ontario and 20 in Quebec but some Indigenous leaders are questioning the accuracy of the data.

ISC said it monitors and tracks multiple sources of information for reporting on new cases of COVID-19 among First Nations people on reserve as well as in Inuit communities.

"While ISC tracks the sources of information available, the authority for publicly sharing information on the confirmed cases of COVID-19 rests with the provinces, territories and Public Health Agency of Canada," a spokesperson for the department told CBC News.

In Quebec, cases have been reported in Inuit, Cree, Innu, and Mohawk communities. But, public health officials in Kahnawake, a Mohawk community south of Montreal, said they've been struggling to get that information from the province.

"Public Health doesn't have a way to pull out that information because its system doesn't work by address or postal code or anything like that," said Lisa Westaway, executive director of the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre.

"I don't care about individual names. I want numbers."

It's part of the reason why Kahnawake opened its own testing site on March 29.

"We wanted to get a better idea of what's happening in the community," said Westaway.

"Depending on whether you have community transmission or not, it changes protective equipment, how you might plan your resources and future resources, how you prepare your ambulance drivers, how you prepare different facilities."

Concerns about 'finger pointing'

She said around 110 residents have been tested so far, and about 93 per cent have tested negative. There have been no hospitalizations or deaths, and some people have recovered.

They aren't releasing the numbers publicly anymore, said Westaway, as it has caused "finger pointing" within the community. Some residents, she said, are also concerned about confidentiality, so increased security and privacy screens were erected at the testing site.

"It's not something to be ashamed or embarrassed about," said Westaway.

"It's a virus, and we're predicting that up to 70 per cent, if not more, of the population will at some point be exposed to this virus and will have it or know somebody very close to them who has had it."

Postponing Easter celebrations

The elected council of Six Nations of the Grand River, in southern Ontario, announced Monday that the community had another positive case, bringing their total to nine. The council said they will be toughening their calls for people to stay home as the Easter long weekend approaches.

"Under normal circumstances, this coming weekend would be a time for our community to gather under the spring sun," said Six Nations of the Grand River elected council Chief Mark Hill in a news release this week.

"We are asking you to postpone any scheduled celebrations for when we, as a community, have completely eliminated the COVID-19 virus in our community. If not, this could very well become a spring full of suffering and of loss."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.