The phrases “Wash your hands often” and “Keep physical distance” to limit the spread of COVID-19 have become part of our daily discourse over the past four months. But what happens when you don’t have clean water to wash with? What if you don’t have room to physically distance?
For too many First Nations across Ontario and Canada, running water is a luxury. Chronic underfunding means decent housing is scarce and overcrowding is a fact of life. The lack of access to quality medical care in remote communities can mean dire consequences for those who contract the virus. The disparity between Indigenous communities and the rest of Ontario have been freshly exposed during COVID-19, showing how Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic.
“It's hard on our people. The pandemic has really, really impacted our communities,” says Alison Linklater, Health Policy Advisor for Mushkegowuk Council as well as Pandemic Response co-lead alongside Albalina Metatawabin. “A lot of [First Nations] are in lockdown. Some of them have travel bans imposed... It's really impacted how we provide services to the communities and how they provide services to their members.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in its scale, MCC Indigenous Neighbours Program Coordinator in Ontario, Lyndsay Mollins Koene, knew MCC had set a precedent with critical response in the past. In 2009, she had teamed up with Material Resources to coordinate the procurement and delivery of 3,000 H1N1 kits to 30 northern First Nations communities and organizations.
After consulting with two tribal councils - Mushkegowuk Council, representing seven First Nations in northeastern Ontario, and Windigo First Nations Council representing seven First Nations in northwestern Ontario - as well as three urban Indigenous centres in Timmins, a plan was established to send 2,400 pandemic sanitary response kits. But first, MCC needed the contents of the kits.
“Our warehouse was basically cleaned out at that point,” says Jon Lebold, Material Resources Program Coordinator in Ontario. While the pandemic had forced all volunteers to stay at home, the need of partners in Ontario and abroad had increased. “I had some long, lonely days and nights in the warehouse,” says Jon with a laugh. A full container bound for Jordan and an emergency load sent to Kashechewan First Nations community to help them cope with anticipated seasonal flooding in March and April had exhausted supplies as well as Jon himself. “Fortunately, we had some friends that came through big time for us.”
MCC photo/Lyndsay Mollins Koene
The Meeting House church has been focusing intentionally on Indigenous and Settler reconciliation and learning work for a number of years. During this time, they’ve partnered with MCC’s Indigenous Neighbours program on several initiatives, including Dancing Toward Reconciliation events, blanket exercises and learning tours. The Meeting House was also the driving force behind the Kashechewan hygiene kit response earlier in the spring.
“We had been on this journey of learning and awareness. We wanted to combine that with doing something tangible,” says Matt Thompson, Compassion Manager at The Meeting House. “So when MCC came to us with this identified need for kits, we were ready to go!”
MCC photo/Heather Gallian
In a matter of days, their goal of raising $24,000 to fund the purchase of materials for 2,400 kits had been met. “It was awesome. Honestly, it blew me away,” says Matt. “I think as well, at the time, the conversation around racial injustice was heightened and at the forefront of everyone’s mind, so here was one way we could contribute positively to a practical need."
In addition to the supplies that needed to be purchased, Waterloo County Quilters’ Guild and the KW chapter of Days for Girls, an international organization that makes re-usable sanitary hygiene products available for girls, contributed over 3,000 handmade masks. In all, over 15,000 individuals benefited from these kits.
MCC photo/provided by Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief, Jonathan Solomon
Alison Linklater, who helped to coordinate the distribution of the masks, noted the scarcity. “A lot of these supplies, like masks and hand sanitizer, you can’t even buy up here, there’s such shortage,” she says. “We are grateful. Miigwetch.”
MCC is getting countless COVID-19-related requests from Indigenous partners for masks and hand sanitizer. We welcome monetary donations of any amount at this time so we can purchase these items in bulk to distribute to Indigenous communities in need.
MCC is grateful for the support of donors and constituents who continue to learn from, advocate for, and walk with Indigenous communities. We are also grateful for Indigenous partnerships who facilitated smooth and successful distributions to remote locations.
Please explore the current projects of our Indigenous Neighbours program to see how you can respond to the needs of these individuals and families across Ontario.