Grand Chief Arlen Dumas opposes MP’s calls for military support to combat COVID on Manitoba First Nations

NDP MP for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski Niki Ashton is calling on the federal government for military support for northern Manitoba first nations, as they deal with surging COVID-19 cases.

“We need to see boots on the ground in these communities we need to make sure that they’re able to keep people safe and in some cases that does mean calling in the military,” Ashton told Global News.

“This isn’t about getting ahead of it, this is about supporting communities right now, so that things don’t get worse.”

Read more: Military arrives in Pimicikamak First Nation to help with COVID-19 outbreak

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, doesn’t believe military help should be the approach.

“It’s disrespectful to our leadership, it’s disrespectful to the efforts that are being made on the ground,” Dumas told Global News.

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“We always appreciate the help, but there’s a process that we’ve established. We’ve been dealing with this pandemic for two years. We have people on the ground who are contending to these issues and taking proactive measures.”

Read more: Troops arrive at Bearskin Lake amid COVID-19 outbreak: Blair

Dumas says Ashton never contacted the pandemic response team before making the call for federal help. “Had she made an effort to speak to the First Nations Pandemic Response Team in Manitoba who’s been leading the way in our response to the pandemic she would already known that we’ve already had proactive discussions.”

Dumas says he says it’s time to start being less reactive.

“We don’t need the military to come and give us a Band-Aid. We actually want long term investment that will allow us to protect ourselves.”

“We have rapid response teams, we have the pandemic response team, we have the ambassadors program, we have the ability to mobilize quickly when needed and I think this last call by Niki Ashton’s is sensationalism.”

Read more: Dozens more soldiers heading to Manitoba’s Shamattawa First Nation

Ashton told Global News she wouldn’t have called on federal support without hearing from First Nation members first. She says most first nation leaders are telling her that they’re “overwhelmed’.

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She says the Gods River First Nation Grand Chief told her they currently have more cases now than when military was used earlier in 2021.

The creation of Rapid Response Teams was funded by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) through Ongomiizwin Health Services at the University of Manitoba, says a spokesperson for the federal minister of indigenous services.

“Indigenous Services Canada remains in direct communication with First Nations for any requests of support: for rapid tests, PPE, health human resources, coordination with provincial partners,” said Andrew McKendrick.  “Additionally our office remains in close contact with the Government Operations Centre, Emergency Preparedness, and National Defence to respond to, and help coordinate, any requests for military support if, and when, required.”

As has been the case throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Indigenous Services Canada will continue to work directly with First Nations leadership, McKendrick added.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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