COVID-19: First Nations Leadership Council demands that Justin Trudeau declare national state of emergency to deal with "nightmare"

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      The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) today (March 23) demanded that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declare a national state of emergency.

      In a news release, B.C. Assembly of First Nations regional chief Terry Teegee said decisive action needs to be taken before remote and at-risk First Nations communities are hit hard by the global coronavirus pandemic.

      “Prime Minister Trudeau must take immediate and sweeping action to declare a National State of Emergency before the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through First Nations and vulnerable communities," Teegee said.  "Historically, First Nations communities have been devasted by pandemics and we must take decisive action now before we see our community and family members fall ill. We must heed the lessons of Italy, China and other countries that have felt the brunt of this pandemic.”

      The FNLC is made up of the political executives of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), and the First Nations Summit (FNS).

      The lack of access to urgent respiratory care was cited as one of the key concerns for remote First Nations communities.

      UBCIC president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip described the pandemic spread as a "nightmare" and said Ottawa must quickly increase funding to First Nations for essential medical and food supplies.

      “The time for denial and bureaucratic delay about the spread of COVID-19 is over—our communities are in crisis and we are looking for answers and for resources to stop the spread of this horrendous and nightmare pandemic," Stewart said in the release.

      "Canada needs to provide increased funding for Indigenous and vulnerable communities, who are at the highest risk levels, in order to ensure they are able to purchase necessary sanitation supplies, medicines, equipment, and food supplies so they can take care of their citizens.”

      The FNLC acknowledged that some First Nations had already declared their own state of emergency in order to implement travel restrictions, and the council said it "encourages every First Nation community in B.C. to declare their own State of Emergency".

      “Every First Nations community in B.C. needs to act now to ensure strict social and physical distancing measures are taken immediately," FNS Task Group spokesperson Cheryl Casimer said in the release. "All communities should be encouraged to cancel or postpone all cultural, community or social gatherings, meetings and events. Community leaders must take the necessary steps to immediately educate all of our citizens, especially the youth, so they learn the risks associated with COVID-19. As well, leaders are encouraged to involve the whole community in efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.”