COVID-19 Response by Indigenous Communities

Indigenous communities are working to ensure the safety of their members in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Different communities face different threats and challenges and they are developing effective solutions based on the needs of the people and the resources at hand. Many are in need of better healthcare equipment and services, many have concerns about over-crowded housing, while people are checking-in with elders, sharing food and traditional medicines, and creating emergency plans. 

Amnesty will be featuring different communities, their worries, and the solutions they have developed in the face of COVID-19. We will also connect activists with opportunities to advocate for Indigenous rights to ensure that everyone gets the help they need during the pandemic. 

We begin with an introduction to Kelly Lake Cree Nation, a community of 800 people on the border between northern British Columbia and Alberta. 

As’in’i’wa’chi Ni’yaw Nation (Kelly Lake Cree Nation) 

As’in’i’wa’chi Ni’yaw Nation, also known as Kelly Lake Cree Nation, has more than 800 members in present-day northeastern British Columbia and western central Alberta and has been fighting for the past 20 years to prove its existence as an independent Indigenous community.

In this video, Chief Calliou speaks in English and Cree about his concerns and efforts in regards to protecting his community from the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 response challenges

  • Due tothe Nation’s legal status, they fall through the cracks and don’t qualify for federal support under strategies for urban Indigenous communities. Provincial Northern Health has provided no help and has not consulted with the community on how to manage or avoid the spread of COVID-19 to the community.
  • The community is asking one person per household to do the shopping. The community has no masks or gloves and a limited supply of hand sanitizer.
  • There are currently no cases in the community, but there are fears that if there’s one case, it will quickly spread.
  • A community elder died and the community wasn’t able to follow cultural protocols and was only able to have a very tiny funeral.
  • The only support to the community is a small corporate contribution from an industry partner, which provided some toilet paper, hand sanitizer, three boxes of gloves, and some bottled water.
  • The community is requesting funds to purchase PPE.
  • Overcrowding and needed repairs of the housing crisis remain unaddressed. Even if supplies were procured, there is nowhere to store or distribute them except for a school closed in 2000 (owned by the province), which the community doesn’t have access to.

The people of Kelly Lake Cree are descendants of the Nêhiyaw and Dane-zaa nations who hold inherent right to their territories, some 40,000 square km, and of the Rotinonhsesháka trappers and traders who came to the region with the North West Company in the 18th century. Today, the people of Kelly Lake proudly identify as Cree people, speak the Woods Cree dialect, participate in Cree cultural traditions, and retain and respect Cree knowledge and beliefs relating to territory and community life.

The As’in’i’wa’chi Ni’yaw Nation is one of the few in the Peace River area who have not been included in the treaty process. As a result, unlike neighbouring Indigenous communities who signed onto Treaty 8, the nation remained outside treaty and maintained self-sufficiency.

In 1996, Kelly Lake Cree Nation filed a comprehensive land claim against the Government of Canada, and a civil claim against the Province of British Columbia in 2010. Claims such as these are modern treaties signed between Indigenous peoples and governments. They are based on traditional land use and occupation by Indigenous peoples who have not signed treaties, or have not been forced from their territories by war or other means. Such claims, which are settled through a negotiation process, ensure that the federal government recognizes the Indigenous community and obliges government to respect their rights as an Indigenous people. Since the Daniels decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2016, the federal government also has legal responsibilities to non-status Indigenous people in Canada.

The people of As’in’i’wa’chi Ni’yaw Nation affirm:

Our people never placed boundaries over the territory, elders tell us, 

“you know you’re still within our lands when you hear our Cree language being spoken, when it becomes no more, than you know you’re out of our territory.”

Our people have a vision, and despite the continual infringements upon our rights, we have never surrendered the Indigenous rights and title to our lands.

Take Action

Amnesty will be connecting activists with opportunities to advocate for Indigenous rights in response to calls from Indigenous communities. 

Advocate for the federal government to respect Indigenous rights and ensure every community has the resources they need. 

1. Send an email 

>>>Use our sample email text to send a message to Justin Trudeau and Minister Miller

Send your email to: 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller:

Ask the Prime Minister and Indigenous Services Minister to:

  • respect the rights of Indigenous peoples in their emergency response plans. 
  • respect the specific needs of individual communities and intervene immediately to ensure communities have the resources they need. 

2. Show your support on Twitter