Gitane Ouellet and Erin Fehilly have spent a lot of time thinking about Shamattawa lately.
“The people there are so warm and welcoming,” Ouellet says. “They’re really genuine, and they’re in a dire situation. They’ve been calling for help and it’s starting to arrive but there’s a long road ahead for them.”
The community of Shamattawa has been declared one of the hardest hit by the pandemic in Manitoba. Located 750 kilometres north-east of Winnipeg, their 1,300 residents were already living with the hurdles caused by colonization, such as overcrowding and lack of medical resources, and are now facing overwhelming numbers of Covid-19.
Ouellet and Fehilly both work with the Jordan’s Principal program at St.Amant. They play a supporting role in ensuring families are able to care for their children in their home communities. “In the spirit of reconciliation, we always start by simply asking families how we can help and go from there,” explains Ouellet.
On a recent call with other service providers who work in the area, St.Amant staff heard about instances where entire households of 15 people had tested positive for Covid-19, meaning there was no one able to go out to purchase supplies such as groceries and diapers.
“We were honoured to be asked to be help by the community,” admits Ouellet. “On Sunday evening, December 6, we found out there was a plane leaving the next morning that was willing to take a load of supplies up north. We got to work.”
Ouellet and Fehilly split up, each grabbing supplies and food as quickly as they could from local stores. They boxed up hampers for families so that the overwhelmed community members would be able to easily distribute supplies.
Sixteen hours later, they rushed to the airport with 50 hampers of food, 10 boxes of diapers and 10 boxes of formula. The FastAir plane was ahead of schedule and already on the runway. “They had to turn around and come back to the terminal,” laughs Ouellet as she remembers. “But they were incredible. They rearranged seats and packed in every single thing we brought. It was touching to see how much they wanted to help.”
When asked what others can do to support Shamattawa during this time, Ben Adaman, Director of Clinical Services, says the community has started a GoFundMe page to accept donations. But he has another important suggestion:
“It’s on all of us to reflect on how we can work towards a world where people are no longer this vulnerable,” he says. “Senator Murray Sinclair has often talked about true reconciliation meaning that we will all become good friends. That means being there for each other when we need it. That also means working to improve the underlying systems that created this situation in the first place. We need to have open hearts and open minds. We need to be willing to listen and learn.”
St.Amant would like to highlight the support and hard work of the other service providers across the province working to offer care and supplies to Shamattawa: Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre, Children’s Rehabilitation Foundation and First Nations Inuit Health Branch.