Coronavirus, casualties and life on the pre-flattened end of the curve

IndigNation by Bev Cardinal

I predict Indigenous peoples will, sadly, be casualties of this pandemic. Because there’s almost zero data being released about the impact of COVID-19 within First Nation and Inuit communities, I could be wrong. But I don’t think so.

As for the coronavirus’ impact on the Métis, there’s literally no dedicated data being collected because the feds are still playing catch-up to their 2016 legal obligation to include Métis in their fiduciary responsibility.

So what, exactly, has been done to proactively prevent Indigenous peoples — many of whom are among our nation’s most vulnerable populations — from being hardest hit by this pandemic? Nothing.

How do we know this?

Shameful Truths

The living, breathing evidence is right before our eyes: Indigenous peoples have the worst living conditions in our country. Statistics Canada’s 2017 Aboriginal Household Survey reports 324,900 Indigenous people lived in a dwelling in need of major repairs — 20 per cent of Canada’s total Indigenous population. Compare that number to the six per cent of non-Indigenous people who reported their housing in need of repairs. Yep, the statistician in me does suspect a person’s living conditions just might affect their overall physical health.

Combine this massively inequitable standard of living with all the Indigenous communities without potable water as a result of pollution and insufficient, in many cases zero, water infrastructure — along with the lack of affordable healthy food and extremely limited or complete lack of basic health services — and it’s no wonder the average Indigenous person suffers Canada’s worst health status.

There’s no discrimination of any kind here, folks: Indigenous newborns, infants, toddlers, children, youth, adults, the frail, the elderly, the able-bodied and disabled, male, female, two-spirited and gender neutral, city, rural or reserve — wherever they reside — are the most vulnerable in the country.

And then there’s the litany of outrageous government responses to previous epidemics across our nation. Remember H1N1? The federal response was delivering body bags and morbidity kits to First Nation communities. This time, they’re delivering isolation tents — why? So those who get really sick really fast from living in federally owned, dilapidated, overcrowded First Nation and Inuit homes can “self-isolate”? Okie dokie then.

This pandemic is the “perfect storm” of opportunity for federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments to seriously work on a common interest: human life. They all have funds fully at their disposal to proactively respond to a global pandemic they all claim they’ve been planning responses to for years and years. So once this COVID-19 “curve” has been “flattened”, there will be opportunity to actually DO SOMETHING to increase the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples across the nation. To create a level playing field… or at least move the dial toward a more equitable standard of living. To stop being so complacent about human life in this country.

Dead Dogs Laughing

Please everyone, just stop “blaming the victim” or whining that “the Indians get everything handed to them” — it’s 2020 and it’s all sounding even too racist for the average, so-called “nice” Canadian. Here’s an idea: while you’re self-isolating at home, take time to read up on our nation’s constitutional and legal requirements, the Treaty promises and, most importantly, our moral imperatives. Then imagine yourself and generations of your family living under such legal constraints and deplorable conditions for over 150 years.

Speak up. Demand action from every level of government. Everyone’s tax dollars are being spent here. If we collectively believe that prioritizing humane living conditions for all will save us and our future generations big, big dollars and create a healthier more stable nation (AND IT WILL), then the time is now.

In the meantime, I offer a little mantra that’s working overtime for me right now — courtesy of CBC Radio’s former Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour (which, if CBC was wise, it would bring back for encores to help us all become a bit more zen-like): “Stay calm! Be Brave! Wait for the signs!”

Maskawâtisik kahkiyaw! (“Stay well, everyone!”)