AFN press release
OTTAWA, Sept. 17 - Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo issued the following statement today regarding the H1N1 situation in First Nations communities:
"The Assembly of First Nations has raised the issue of body bags being shipped to northern First Nations communities in Manitoba with the Federal Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq. The body bags were shipped without explanation and, seemingly, as part of the federal pandemic preparedness plan.
The Minister's call for an immediate investigation into this matter, and the promise to make the results public is a responsible first step. However, we would encourage the Minister to meet immediately with regional leaders in Manitoba to address the concerns that have been raised as a result of this incident, offer a full explanation and, equally important, discuss with them what needs to be done to ensure First Nations are fully prepared for a potential pandemic.
This incident demonstrates the urgent need to ensure pandemic planning is developed in partnership with First Nations so that First Nations health officials are directly engaged in allocation and distribution of all resources and all jurisdictions understand their respective roles and responsibilities. I am urging the responsible Federal Ministers to work with First Nations leadership nationally, regionally and locally to ensure effective communication, clear planning and full engagement and attention on this matter. I am hopeful we may be ready to announce a new approach very soon. But in the meantime, First Nations that need action now should get action now.
A number of communities across Canada, including my home community of Ahousaht, are affected or expect to be affected by H1N1 this Fall. My home community has been well-prepared, has a well-executed pandemic plan and is handling the outbreak well with the resources at hand. However, there is an immediate need to ensure all First Nations across Canada have the information, tools and human resources needed."
National Chief Shawn Atleo
Assembly of First Nations
The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.
For further information: Media inquiries should be directed to media[at]afn.ca; Chantelle Krish at (778) 990-9544 or Robert Simpson, (778) 991-1407
Sep 17, 2009
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The government apologized on Thursday for sending a large shipment of body bags to aboriginal communities in northern Canada bracing for new outbreaks of the H1N1 flu.
Aboriginal leaders said the body-bag delivery shows the government has already given up on fighting H1N1 in the communities. They expressed outrage at getting body bags instead of sufficient resources to deal with the flu.
"The government has made it clear... what happened was inexcusable," Transport Minister John Baird told Parliament, where opposition parties grilled the Conservatives over the issue.
The government has ordered a probe into the shipments to reserves in northern Manitoba which are bracing for a repeat of H1N1 flu outbreaks that hit some of the isolated villages earlier in the year.
Health Canada said it regretted the alarm caused by the shipments.
The agency said it routinely restocks medical supplies to help the isolated communities "prepare for unknown and unforeseen events" such as pandemics and plane crashes, but the shipment was far more than needed.
Native leaders say the earlier flu outbreaks were worsened by a slow government response, and the body bag incident was another example of the government's failure to work with them on preparing for the virus.
The controversy coincided with a report on Thursday that the first major outbreaks of H1N1 virus of the new flu season in Canada have hit remote aboriginal communities on Vancouver Island on the Pacific Coast.
No deaths have been reported, and most of the people who have become sick have suffered "fairly mild" symptoms, according to the report, according to the on-line journal of the Canadian Medical Association.
Health experts say factors such as close living conditions, poverty and poor sanitation are likely to contribute to fast transmission of H1N1 in aboriginal communities.
(Reporting by Allan Dowd, Editing by Frank McGurty)