First Nations COVID-19 cases undercounted, says AFN national chief

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde says COVID-19 infection rates among First Nations people are undercounted as a result of failures in information sharing between federal, provincial and territorial governments. 

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) is reporting that as of May 7 there were 165 cases on reserves across the country, including 17 hospitalizations and two deaths. 

Bellegarde said the department’s numbers, while showing an upward trend, are failing to capture the true picture of the situation.

“I fear that there are already far more cases among our people than we currently know,” said Bellegarde, in testimony before the House of Commons Indigenous and Northern Affairs Committee Friday. 

“Unfortunately, largely due to gaps in co-ordination and information sharing with the federal government and the provinces and territories, First Nations do not have access to reliable sources of information that tracks infections among First Nations.”

The Indigenous affairs committee heard from all three national Indigenous leaders on Friday. 

ISC does not report recovered cases or the names of affected First Nations, saying it’s a privacy issue, or include numbers of cases among First Nations people living off-reserve. 

“There has to be a better way of tracking,” said Bellegarde.

“We get it about legal requirements and confidentiality, but you need good data.”

Bellegarde said Indigenous people should consider voluntarily showing a status card or declaring they are First Nations, Métis or Inuit when getting tested to help improve the accuracy of data.  

Convservative MP Gary Vidal, the Indigenous Services critic, said the federal department has inadequate data because it only has information on the on-reserve population and relies on provinces and territories to gather its information. 

“In essence what we have is some very inaccurate data we are using to make decisions,” said Vidal, during the committee hearing.

ISC has said it depends on data from provincial and territorial health authorities and they don’t require individuals to self-identify.

Inuit leader calls for more testing

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, says more COVID-19 testing is needed in Inuit communities. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed said the 51 communities across the Inuit homeland were so far faring well in the pandemic.

“Our status sits in stark contrast to the rest of the country,” said Obed.

 “We have been successful so far in protecting our communities from COVID-19.” 

The Inuit region of Nunavik, in northern Quebec, was reporting 16 COVID-19 cases as of Friday, according to Quebec government numbers. 

Obed called for increased testing in Inuit communities and a decrease in the delay getting test results. He said there is also a tuberculosis testing machine that could be used for COVID-19 and he called on Ottawa to explore this option.   

Métis leader concerned over Sask. outbreak

David Chartrand, vice-president of the Metis National Council, says Ottawa doesn’t treat all Indigenous groups equally. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

David Chartrand, vice-president of the Métis National Council, said Métis are still being left behind. He said the Métis have been hit harder than their First Nations neighbours during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in La Loche, Sask., as a result of negligence by the federal and provincial government. 

“You look at La Loche, just how fast it is,” said Chartrand.

“With a plan, you can stop it … without a plan, it takes off.”

La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre said Saskatchewan has responded to the needs of La Loche. 

“Everybody is entitled to their comments,” said St. Pierre, who is president of Métis Local 39. 

“The province has made the efforts and they are coming through on a lot of the requests in the community we have at this time, so that is the important thing.”

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