Rangers arrive to Bearskin Lake First Nation to assist with outbreak

By Maan Alhmidi

A few members of the Canadian Armed Forces are on the ground in Bearskin Lake First Nation in northern Ontario to assist the community amid a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected half of its population.

A spokeswoman for federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said four Rangers are there to co-ordinate, help with logistics, and distribute food, water, firewood and care packages.

Annie Cullinan said more Rangers will be sent to the community in the coming days, with the initial deployment set to last until Jan. 23, though it could be extended.

She said the Rangers will also conduct community wellness checks and assist in establishing a local isolation area.

The community has requested the assistance of 40 personnel. The chief said they may need help for up to six weeks.

Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin said the community needs more support quickly. The few there now are not enough to support the small local group of volunteers that are delivering basic supplies to about 50 homes where people are isolating.

Bearskin Lake First Nation officials declared emergency in the community in late December and they formally requested military assistance from Ottawa last week.

“A quick response would have been good, would have been better,” Kamenawatamin said.

Kamenawatamin said he tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday and he is now in isolation.

“’I’m feeling a little better this morning … yesterday was kind of rough,” he said in an interview on Monday.

A total of 210 people have been infected with COVID-19 in the 400-person community, located about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.