A joint effort: Supporting COVID-19 mitigation efforts in Garden Hill First Nation

March 2, 2021 – Defence Stories

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The collaborative effort involving the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) provided critical support to a community in need.

By Brock Holowachuk, Communications Regional Director, Indigenous Service Canada Communications

When the Garden Hill First Nation in Manitoba was facing an unprecedented civil disaster caused by COVID-19, the community turned to the Government of Canada for help. The collaborative effort involving the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) provided critical support to a community in need.

In January 2020, an outbreak of COVID-19 hit Garden Hill First Nation hard. Within a few short weeks, over one quarter of the population had contracted COVID-19, and with every day, more and more residents. Nursing Station were pushed to their limits, and the First Nation was facing difficulties in the delivery of essential services. The ability to provide more help was challenged because of the remote location of Garden Hill First Nation. Located approximately 500 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg, Garden Hill does not have an all-season road, with essential supplies being transported by air or through a brief winter road season, which normally begins in February.

The Chief and Council made a formal request for assistance to Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), who then requested the support of the CAF under Operation LASER, which is the CAF response to the worldwide pandemic situation. Following a reconnaissance mission to understand the needs and priorities, a Multi-Purpose Medical Assistance Team was deployed to Garden Hill First Nation on January 20.

The largest elements of the Team at Garden Hill First Nation included members of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2 PPCLI) from CFB Shilo. They were joined by members of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Service, including a member of the Royal Canadian Navy. The CAF members working in the community were supported by regular sustainment flights from 17 Wing in Winnipeg, MB. Joining the Government of Canada’s effort on-the-ground at Garden Hill First Nation were members of ISC and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

After arriving at Garden Hill First Nation community, the team worked with local First Nation community staff and the Nursing Station to quickly implement solutions for the most critical needs in the community. This included: door-to-door wellness visits; establishing and staffing an Alternate Isolation Accommodation site to provide a safe and comfortable place for people who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, or had been a close contact with a positive case; surge capacity at the Nursing Station; and supporting the delivery of food and water to residents who were isolating.

Their tireless work resulted in immediate and important assistance to the First Nation. The delivery of essential supports helped the community isolate and limit the spread of COVID-19, and this allowed people to recover and re-join the critical service workers in the community. With this, the need for surge capacity from the CAF was reduced, and the Team was gradually drawn down.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, members of the First Nation enjoyed a nightly bingo game that was broadcast on their local television and radio stations. That had to take a pause when the community was locked down. Toward the end of the mission, the Team organized a bingo night hosted by CAF, RCMP, and ISC members. Along with donated prizes from the Chief and Council, PPCLI, and other generous contributors, a number of prizes were provided by the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation. It was a special night, and a profound ‘thank you’ to the community for their hospitality and cooperation.

While the final group on-the-ground was redeployed on February 9, federal representatives remain in close contact with the Garden Hill First Nation to support their emergency response.

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