Thirty-thousand Manitoba First Nations children and teens can expect to receive their specially designed four-layer masks to help fight against COVID-19 in the coming weeks.
This initiative is a joint plan by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) and Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba (CHFM) to keep First Nations youths in Manitoba safer and healthier.
The AMC donated $75,000 to the CHFM for the production of the masks. Two-thirds of the masks will be distributed to Manitoba First Nations while the rest will be supplied by CHFM to Children’s Hospital Emergency Department.
“The masks are a reflection and testament of our good work,” said AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas in a virtual press conference. “When we provide these masks and the children see them, they will be reflected in those masks, not only in the image of that mask but in the concept of protection, care and nurture that comes along with being vigilant and protecting one another in light of the pandemic.”
Since First Nations people continue to make up a highly disproportionate number of new cases in Manitoba, Dumas noted that it is now more critical First Nation citizens are diligent with following the protective public health measures such as wearing a multilayered face mask to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The masks are three-ply and have a removable filter that functions as an additional fourth layer of protection.
Its exterior design signifies the colours of a First Nations medicine wheel and includes the Jordan’s Principle Spirit Bear and the Children’s Hospital Foundation Dr. Goodbear. Both logos represent strength, health, family and courage.
Named in memory of Jordan River Anderson from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba, Jordan's Principle makes sure that all First Nations children in the country have equitable access to services and supports when they need it.
“The CHFM exists so our community can offer the best care and support to sick and injured children,” said Stefano Grande, president and CEO of the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba.
“We believe this support and positive energy right now to First Nations in Manitoba is vital to the current and future health of First Nation youths. Children and teens from First Nation
communities need to stay safe, healthy and they need their families and community Elders to stay healthy for them.”
First Nations are most likely to be infected through close contact from a COVID-19 positive case due to factors such as overcrowded housing, lack of essential water infrastructure to sanitize homes and hands, lack of access to quality health care.
As of Feb 18, there were 762 confirmed COVID-19 cases among First Nations on-reserve and off-reserve in Manitoba with four in intensive care units.
“The health of our Indigenous children reflects the health and moral compass of our province and country,” said Dr. Melanie Morris, lead of Indigenous health at Health Sciences Centre (HSC) Winnipeg Children’s Hospital.
“The AMC’s leadership in protecting the health of First Nation children in our province resonates with me, as a pediatric surgeon, but also with all of my colleagues who share in this commitment towards helping children.”
Morris explained that wearing a mask represents a commitment to the health of one’s self, their family and also their community.
About half of the children admitted to HSC are Indigenous.
Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the government of Canada.