Pimicikimak Cree Nation receives funding for 16 COVID-19 isolation units

Pimicikimak Cree Nation has been sending COVID positive patients to Winnipeg. The new units will allow citizens to remain in the community.

Northern Manitoba First Nation has over 750 people in isolation

So far, four of the 16 temporary isolation units have been delivered to the community. The band expects to have two delivered every two weeks until the end of April. (Submitted by Cathy Merrick)

A First Nation in northern Manitoba that currently has hundreds of people isolating due to COVID-19 has been approved for temporary isolation units provided by the federal government.

"We got lucky in terms of getting the 16 isolation units that we applied for," said David Monias, chief of Pimicikamak Cree Nation (PCN).

PCN, also known as Cross Lake, is about 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg. It has been dealing with an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak since Dec. 21 that has led to four hospitalizations, one death and 696 positive cases.

As of Feb. 3, the community has over 750 people who are isolating.

In January, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) said Cross Lake was receiving $4.38 million for temporary isolation accommodations, that would include the purchase, delivery, installation and furnishing of 16 Ready-to-Move (RTM) structures, as well as a drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility.

Monias said people from the community who test positive for COVID-19 are being transported to Winnipeg to live in Alternative Isolation Accommodations. 

"We used to isolate the people in the gymnasiums in the schools, but because there is school happening … we can't have COVID positives in the school at all," said Monias.

Cathy Merrick, a former chief of the community, helped get the isolation units for the band.

She said so far four isolation units have been delivered to the community and they are waiting for the electricity and water lines to be installed.

"Once we set them up, we can isolate people in the community, instead of sending them out," said Merrick.

The First Nation expect to have all 16 in place by the end of April.

Overcrowding an ongoing issue

In the early stages of COVID-19, Cross Lake's pandemic response team created a policy that people who tested positive had to be transported outside of the community to places like Winnipeg. 

Cross Lake has over 10,000 members and 8,500 people who live in the community. Monias said it is difficult for people to self-isolate when so many homes in the community are overcrowded.

He said Cross Lake had applied for 100 homes through the CMHC's Rapid Housing Initiative and was denied twice.

Monias estimated the current need for housing in the community is around 1,000 homes, but the community is averaging around six new homes being built every year.


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1