We are writing this letter to address all Eabametoong members, to ensure that all of us are informed of the seriousness of the global COVID-19 situation and to encourage you all with a message of hope within these challenging times. As you have most likely seen and heard in the news, we are entering into a period of change and public health risk that we have not encountered since the beginning of the experience of colonization. There is a lot of information available online about COVID-19, but we ask the community to focus on credible public health guidance from our EFN Health Department and medical professionals.
We cannot stress enough that the most important part of EFN’s emergency pandemic response is you. It is everyone’s responsibility to practice social distancing, regular and vigorous hand washing, and to take seriously any symptoms that you may have and self-isolate. Even if you are not experiencing symptoms, you may pass on the virus to others.
What happens as a result of this virus will depend on the choices of community members: your choices. This is not a time to panic, but to prepare your family’s plans for the pandemic. Educate yourself on social distancing and why it works. Talk to the people in your home and agree to protect each other. Show your children how to wash their hands and talk to them about what is going on. They are smart and capable of understanding what is happening, and they will need you to teach them how and why to be safe. Most of all, protect our elders and family members with pre-existing conditions. They are the most at risk from the virus, and will need the most support from our health system to recover.
Fear is not bad – it teaches us how to be safe. If you are feeling afraid, please do not allow it to paralyze or panic you. Take the steps outlined here and commit now to caring for our community health by taking these recommendations seriously. We have hope because we have all experienced the way that our community works together in times of hardship. Already the response from our membership has been one of love and steadiness.
In addition to these recommendations, EFN Chief and Council and our Executive Staff have been working hard on our response to address current concerns as well as to prepare for the future. Some of these steps include:
- -Direct interaction with Senior Federal and Provincial Officials to secure new funding to prepare for the coming weeks and months of this crisis and address the serious gap between healthcare services available in the community and the rest of Ontario;
- -Establishing an off-reserve response team and office in Thunder Bay, as we anticipate the impacts of COVID-19 to be experienced first by our off-reserve members.
- -We are Hiring two (2) off-reserve response coordinators, Ron Missewace and Sid Okeese, to assist with preparations and member support initiatives in Thunder Bay;
- -Hiring a (1) local response coordinator, Waylon Atlookan, to centralize communications and ensure coordination across EFN departments;
- -Our three new coordinators will be assisting with the purchasing and delivery of food and supplies to help meet the needs of our people during this time of crisis, and working across programs to maximize the use of resources;
- -Identifying and coordinating EFN volunteers to help serve our members who are most at risk during this time;
- -Instituting a travel restriction on all non-essential travel to and from the community as of March 19, 2020.
- -Preparing a communications strategy to help keep membership informed of any vital information or services available. This is currently through local radio and the ‘Eabametoong First Nation Community Information Page’ on Facebook, our website: Eabametoong.firstnation.ca, and will be expanding over time as the strategy develops;
- -Establishing a local COVID-19 crisis management team to work with Chief and Council to ensure effective flow of information and consider adjusting and implementing crisis response measures over time.
Our number one priority is to ensure the health and safety of EFN membership. There are other measures in the planning stages right now; we will keep you informed as they come together.
Finally, please be encouraged to use this time to invest in your families and strengthen your relationships even if you cannot physically go and visit people. Spend time together on the phone, go for walks (maintaining 6ft distancing) and talk with each other. Call and check in on your elders; they will require extra love and encouragement as this situation may move from weeks to months. Please exercise extreme caution and be vigilant over your children and any physical interaction with elders at this time, as they may unwittingly spread the virus and may need help handwashing.
Together we will overcome this. We all need to do our part. No one can individually halt this virus, but we can prevent the worst of it if we really commit to helping each other. It is our prayer that this time will show us what it is to live according to the values passed on from our ancestors, including: responsibility, sharing, and family.
With great care and respect,
Eabametoong First Nation Chief and Council