Northern Indigenous Communities in Manitoba

” 1. Indigenous individuals have the rights to life, physical and mental integrity, liberty and security of person. 2. Indigenous peoples have the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group.”  – Article 7, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Northern Manitoba remains closed to non-essential travel to halt the spread of COVID-19. However, the province deemed construction of the Keeyask dam as an essential service. The four First Nations—Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Fox Lake Cree Nation, War Lake First Nation, and York Factory Cree Nation—have partnered with Manitoba Hydro to build and operate the dam.

Manitoba Hydro failed to comply with requests from First Nations to restrict access to the Keeyask project because of concerns that COVID-19 could spread rapidly in the camp and to nearby First Nations. After widespread peaceful protest, Manitoba Hydro reached an agreement with the four partner First Nations to work together to protect communities from COVID-19. Manitoba Hydro must build on this partnership to address all concerns about the health, safety, and wellness of Indigenous peoples at the Keeyask dam. Manitoba Hydro must build on this partnership to address all concerns about the health, safety, and wellness of Indigenous peoples at the Keeyask dam, including the racist, sexist, and homophobic harassment and violence that Indigenous peoples—and in particular Indigenous women—have experienced while working at Keeyask.

Hilda Anderson-Pyrz is from O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation on the shores of South Indian Lake in northern Manitoba. She is the Manager of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison Unit with the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, an organization representing First Nations in northern Manitoba. Hilda is a key voice advocating for an end to violence against Indigenous women, girls, and gender diverse people, and in addition to her campaigning, she provides frontline support, working with families who have lost their loved ones to violence, and with women and gender diverse violence survivors. In this video, Hilda talks about the pressing needs facing First Nations in northern Manitoba—and in particular Indigenous women and gender diverse people experiencing violence—in the time of COVID-19.

COVID-19 Response Challenges

  • Respect for the MKO “Care and Maintenance Mode,” which would limit access at the Keeyask Dam to 250 workers and reduce the transmission of COVID-19 into Northern Manitoba.
  • MKO serves families who have been impacted by homicide, have a loved one who is missing, and survivors of violence;
    • Services must now be provided remotely because of social distancing measures put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19;
    • MKO serves remote and isolated communities with a lack of infrastructure, including limited access to the internet, telephone, and cell phone communications; and
    • Limited infrastructure impedes MKO’s ability to get information to communities in a timely manner, and impacts their ability to connect with people who need access to their services and resources.

In mid-March communities implemented recommended measures to keep their people safe; visiting care homes is restricted, some First Nations have chosen to close their borders to only necessary travel, and communities have been asked to review their own health services so that medical practitioners over the age of 60 can take time off. Hunters and medicine people in northern Manitoba communities were asked to help with preparations by stockpiling food and medicines that can be used to prevent and treat Covid-19. Due to overcrowding in some households and lack of alternative housing options, MKO’s approach to isolation, quarantine and assistance is focused on families living under the same roof rather than individuals.

MKO is also addressing the needs of people experiencing domestic violence. Avoiding public spaces and working remotely may help to slow the spread of COVID-19 but staying at home may not be the safest choice for many survivors. Any external influences that add stress and financial pressure can have a detrimental effect on survivors and create conditions that further threaten their well-being.

When survivors are forced to remain in the home or close to their abuser for long periods of time, an abuser may use any opportunity to assert power over their victim, including a global pandemic. In a period of necessary physical distancing, advocated by government and public health organisations, an abuser may take advantage of an already stressful situation to gain more power.

MKO works with communities impacted by Manitoba Hydro projects. Communities near the Keeyask hydroelectric dam construction site continue to report allegations of sexist, homophobic, and racist harassment and violence. Manitoba Hydro has ignored their concerns. Communities expressed concern about the possible spread of COVID-19 to their communities, as the Keeyask construction project continues to operate during the pandemic. These concerns have also been ignored by Manitoba Hydro.

Additional Resources

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