The Métis Nation-Saskatchewan has declared a state of emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19.
A news release issued on Saturday afternoon said the organization was taking the unprecedented step while it works to increase support for the roughly 75,000 Métis people in Saskatchewan, but said it needs help to do that.
“This state of emergency is required to urge action and further collaboration between all levels of government to respond to the unique challenges facing Métis in urban centres and remote and northern communities,” the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan statement said.
A COVID-19 command centre was set up earlier this week for Métis citizens in one southwestern Saskatchewan area.
In the northwest, another centre has been established to help residents in that area. MN-S President Glen McCallum said the hope is to expand east, to provide help for the entire northern and central region of the province.
Wendy Gervais, the representative for the organization’s Western Region III, formally announced the southwestern command centre through a news release on Wednesday, prior to the state of emergency being declared.
The release said the operation centre will serve roughly 10,000 Métis citizens in Lumsden, Regina Beach, Saskatchewan Beach, Maple Creek, Assiniboia, Willow Bunch and Ponteix, as well as Regina, Swift Current and Moose Jaw.
Gervais said it’s been very difficult at times during the pandemic to ensure Métis people’s needs are being met, but the command centre aims to help achieve that goal.
“Some of the people’s needs are just very basic needs … seniors who can’t get out of their homes to get themselves some cleaning supplies, or pick up prescriptions,” she said.
In an interview with CBC News, she said the idea came after she received a few phone calls from Métis citizens who needed help due to job loss as a result of the pandemic.
“That right there showed us that there was a gap in services and a need in our community,” Gervais said.
Gervais said the organization received financial support from the federal government to ensure Métis citizens were taken care of. She said that money is being distributed through a variety of programs.
Northern incident control centre hopes to expand
McCallum said the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan is part of a group from northwestern Saskatchewan working to promote collaboration among all forms of government amidst the pandemic.
They’ve set up a northern incident control centre, which he said he hopes to see expand to serve other areas.
“The last conference call we had, we had Brian Hardlotte, the grand chief of the Prince Albert Grand Council, he was part of the conversation,” McCallum said.
“They’re doing things on the east side and we’re trying to bring in the east side at the same time, as far as planning together here.”
McCallum said part of the reason the incident control centre was established was to address needs in the north around fighting the pandemic. Among those needs is the demand for personal protective equipment.
“We’ve worked with Alberta and Ontario and Saskatchewan” to get the personal protective equipment, he said.
“Hopefully this weekend and we’ll be shipping it to the right places — the regions in the north, central and south.”
That was made possible through financial support from the federal government, which McCallum said he’s been satisfied with so far.
He also said he feels the province is doing its part in terms of listening to northern leaders.
When it comes to preventing the spread of the virus, collaboration is the most important tool, he said.
Former Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River MP Rick Laliberte is the incident commander for the northern centre. He said the command centre represents a total of 24 communities, each with their own specific needs and challenges.
“Amongst the threat of COVID-19, we’re facing issues of addictions, in isolation we’re facing issues of mental health, depression,” Laliberte said.
“All these issues are compounded with this COVID challenge. We’re realizing how fragile our communities are and how ready we are to take care of our own people.”