Evidence of meeting #11 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was communities.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Amanda Meawasige  Director of Intergovernmental Relations, First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba
Mike Mckenzie  Innu Nation COVID-19 Strategic Unit
Jean-Claude Pinette  Assistant to the Chief, Innu Nation COVID-19 Strategic Unit
Stanley Vollant  Health Expert, Innu Nation COVID-19 Strategic Unit

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

This may be a little out of your area of expertise, but many of the communities that we deal with are fly-in only. Given that many people just aren't travelling anywhere because of COVID, do you have any intel on the flights and the northern airlines and how they're doing?

5:50 p.m.

Director of Intergovernmental Relations, First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba

Amanda Meawasige

I know that they've instituted stricter safety and sanitization regulations. I know that professionals who are flying into first nation communities are screened and flown in on a separate charter to ensure there is no contamination by any visiting staff. There is a lot of anxiety right now with respect to provinces opening up borders and reintegrating businesses. It's important that first nations be supported in keeping their borders closed should that be something they choose to do.

Also, first nation interests can no longer be secondary to industry and economic development priorities. We saw an example of this with the Manitoba Hydro blockage in the last couple of days in Manitoba. Partners need to communicate with one another and provide those necessary assurances for safety.

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Thank you.

Chief Mckenzie, do you have any comments about the airlines that are supporting your communities and whether they remain viable?

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

Be very brief. You have 10 seconds left.

5:50 p.m.

Innu Nation COVID-19 Strategic Unit

Chief Mike Mckenzie

Yes, it's vital to have screening for air travellers. There are a lot of hydroelectric and mining projects going on in the territory of the Innu Nation. There should be air travel screening especially at the airports, including Sept-Îles, Saint-Pierre and all locations near first nations communities.

We often talk about how vulnerable first nations are in terms of health. We've talked about health determinants. In addition to air travel screening, we need roadside checkpoints. Most first nations have taken the initiative to set up their own roadside checkpoints.

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

I'm sorry to interrupt. We're right at time now, and we go to Ms. Damoff for five minutes.

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you to all our witnesses for being here.

I want to start by acknowledging that I'm on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

I want to begin by talking a little about jurisdiction. Last week we had the B.C. First Nations Health Authority with us, and Ms. Meawasige, as Mr. Viersen mentioned, you sit on the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat in Manitoba, and you've talked about collaboration there. From Chief Mckenzie's remarks, I don't think they're having the same kind of collaboration in Quebec that we've seen in B.C. and in Manitoba.

Something that has come up repeatedly from witnesses is the ability to determine the impact off-reserve for indigenous peoples in Canada. You mentioned that data is being collected in Manitoba. How did that data collection come about, and how well is that going?

5:55 p.m.

Director of Intergovernmental Relations, First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba

Amanda Meawasige

A data-sharing agreement was negotiated between the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat and the Province of Manitoba. It's a first nations identifier, so once a person tests positive for COVID, they're asked to identify as a first nations person. That gives us real-time data on where these people are from. It allows us to communicate to communities that there is possible infection and that contact tracing needs to be made.

More importantly, we're getting that off-reserve data information. In Manitoba approximately 40% of the population live off reserve. That's a huge number of people who sometimes require extra responses and services. This process allows us to see that.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

What are you seeing in the off-reserve data in the rates of COVID? I'm curious.

5:55 p.m.

Director of Intergovernmental Relations, First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba

Amanda Meawasige

Right now, we know there are no COVID-positive cases on reserve. We have some cases in first nations off reserve, and they have higher rates of requiring hospitalization. This indicates they're a vulnerable population, which is why this kind of data is super important in allowing an appropriate response to be made.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Do you have anything you could send to the committee? I think you've verified what we inherently believe, but without that data, it's hard to develop government policy.

What about reopening? I'm going to ask both you and Chief Mckenzie to talk about that, because as the province reopens, it's important, as you were mentioning, that we include everyone at the table, and we don't want to....

You mentioned there are no cases on reserve—

5:55 p.m.

Innu Nation COVID-19 Strategic Unit

Chief Mike Mckenzie

The important thing is—

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

I'll start with Amanda and then I'll go to you, Chief. Is that okay?

5:55 p.m.

Director of Intergovernmental Relations, First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba

Amanda Meawasige

As mentioned, I think it's important to support first nations with respect to their readiness to open their borders. It might be a little later than what's prescribed by provincial notions. I think the ability to keep COVID out of our communities was as a result of the swift response in closing our borders and ensuring that community safety was a priority over any kind of resource development or travel by adjacent communities that may traditionally require that road.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Are you being included right now?

5:55 p.m.

Director of Intergovernmental Relations, First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba

Amanda Meawasige

In some regards, yes. I think that in certain partnerships such as the hydro situation, for example, that I brought up, communication probably could have been better and assurances could have been made to avoid those types of disputes, but right now we are being included in the conversation.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Chief, I'll turn it over to you. I have only about a minute left.

5:55 p.m.

Innu Nation COVID-19 Strategic Unit

Chief Mike Mckenzie

For the Innu Nation, we don't have any data on people living off reserve. However, there's one thing I'd like to say to all the MPs. Dr. Stanley Vollant is an Innu surgeon and physician. He's a facilitator who serves as a liaison with the Quebec health network. That's important for the Innu Nation. I think it's important to have first nations members in public health. It's important to learn more about what first nations are going through. The data are often very limited. Quebec has Dr. Stanley Vollant. Western Canada has indigenous doctors who can also help make decisions about first nations. We already need to start getting ready for the second wave. We mentioned the need to plan, with the first nations being so vulnerable. We're reaching out to you. There are concerns about first nations.

6 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Bratina

We're at time. Thank you very much.

We'll go to Mr. Dalton for five minutes. Please go ahead, Marc.

May 26th, 2020 / 6 p.m.

Conservative

Marc Dalton Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Thank you.

My translation doesn't seem to be working.

My question is for Dr. Vollant.

I live in Maple Ridge, a suburb of Vancouver. In our region, we've had to cancel thousands of preventive operations, for heart conditions, cancer and other diseases, so that we could be ready to treat COVID-19 patients. That's sure to have consequences. I'm wondering what the negative consequences will be. You already touched on this briefly.

Have you seen a decrease in help for people with health conditions? What should we do, and what can we do, for these people and for your people?

6 p.m.

Health Expert, Innu Nation COVID-19 Strategic Unit

Dr. Stanley Vollant

Quebec's situation is different from the rest of Canada, because we have the most cases. Quebec has over 50,000 cases and 4,100 deaths. I'm a surgeon. In Montreal, we're operating at 25% capacity. People are suffering. My waiting list used to be months long, but now it's more than a year long. Once everything reopens, which will happen later this fall or next year, it will be very hard to satisfy people who are suffering. People are calling me about their operations, and we have to make a choice. As for cancer screening, we've got a considerable backlog. There are some very sick people in hospital right now. People are coming in with appendicitis, but these aren't simple appendicitis cases, they're complicated. People are scared to come to the hospital, so they keep putting it off. There are delays due to the fact that the public is scared of COVID-19. There are also delays because resources are limited.

Other parts of Quebec, like the North Shore, have reported fewer cases of COVID-19. Surgical and medical procedures aren't back to normal, but they might not have been as severely affected as in Montreal. There will be an impact that will linger for years.

How can you help us? Well, there's a nursing shortage, and there's a shortage of funding for health care. I think it will take time. The federal government needs to invest more money in providing resources to first nations and helping them care for their members.

6 p.m.

Conservative

Marc Dalton Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Thank you very much.

MP Zimmer, I believe, talked about transportation. What has been the impact with regard to the reduction in flights? I imagine there has been a reduction in flights in the north, as we have seen throughout Canada. Are we noticing a difference in the price of goods such as food and other needs? Is it putting more economic pressure on first nations people?

Perhaps Amanda and then the chief could speak to that.

6 p.m.

Director of Intergovernmental Relations, First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba

Amanda Meawasige

Food security has actually been a long-standing issue with respect to freight costs. This is further exacerbating that situation. We know that to keep flights economical, the way they're done right now is to load them up quickly, clean them up quickly and turn them around. That's going to change, so that's definitely going to have an impact in terms of adequate transportation to and from communities, be they service providers or community members flying out for medical services and such.

Definitely, the prices have gone up. We're doing our best to try to work with the northern stores and different levels of government to see a price freeze to ensure it's not going to have a bad impact at the community level.

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Marc Dalton Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Thank you.

Could Chief Mckenzie comment as well?

6:05 p.m.

Innu Nation COVID-19 Strategic Unit

Chief Mike Mckenzie

It's extremely costly for our northern brothers and sisters in Matimekush-Lac John. Even on the North Shore, food prices have gone up. Don't forget, food sovereignty is vital to first nations.

Because of COVID-19, most of the communities on the North Shore haven't even been able to go goose hunting this year. It's a traditional hunt for first nations in Quebec. Food prices have been extremely high since the pandemic started.