Pandemic dominated FSIN work for 2020: Watson
- NC Raine | December 28, 2020
“Safe to say, back in March, we never expected the year to look like this. It's, hopefully, one in a hundred years,” said Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Vice-Chief Morley Watson.
Dealing with the unforeseen and the urgent comes with the territory of representing 74 First Nations across Saskatchewan. But with outbreaks in isolated communities, demands for more personal protective equipment (PPE), objections that public health restrictions were 'discriminatory' to northern residents, and calls for priority access to vaccines, COVID-19 dominated priorities, and headlines, for the FSIN in 2020.
“It certainly hit our communities hard, but credit to how quickly they reacted. Communities shut down borders and minimized travel, so as a result they were able to get through that first wave pretty much unscathed, for the most part,” said Watson in an interview reviewing 2020.
When COVID-19 hit Canada in early March, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron declared a state of emergency and called for immediate financial assistance, testing, and PPE for First Nations. The federal government issued $37 million for Saskatchewan First Nations.
Despite the funding, Watson said the biggest challenge for the FSIN and Chiefs this year was still financial.
“The biggest challenge is always lack of adequate funding. When (First Nations) closed their borders down, that was a 24-hour job. We needed so many things, like PPE, to do the job properly. As always, (the First Nations) stretched out the dollar to make it work.”
“Our federation is 70-some years old, and this has never happened, so for us to continue business, we had to do things very differently,” said Watson.
Funerals and wakes were severely impacted by the pandemic.
“When we lose someone, we as a community and as First Nations people, like to be there to assist the family and the community during the mourning period. Because of COVID, we weren't able to do that, which was disheartening,” he said.
FSIN governance had to adjust too. Normal operations like assemblies and commission and task force meetings had to be done virtually or cancelled altogether, he said.
The fall chiefs assembly, which usually takes place in October, was cancelled, and there is no plan currently to hold a spring assembly.
“The lack of face to face meetings, the things we usually do in order to work with our First Nations communities on issues they want us to work on, we had to transition to a new way of doing things,” he said.
But transitioning to virtual meetings and learning also relates to the FSIN's biggest success of the year, said Watson – the ability to keep people safe.
“We were able to continue having our children learning, we were able to have our staff online. I think the safety of our people and the continuation of learning, as well as keeping our elders and community members safe, were things we had success with.”
As a positive way to end each year, the FSIN donates wild meat to food banks around Saskatchewan, an annual initiative they've been doing since 2014.
“We've lived through tough times in our own lives and communities, so we try to give back as much as we can. Christmas is a time for that. There are so many homeless and mental health issues, and less fortunate people out there, so this is a way of helping with those who live in poverty,” said Watson.
As the year has been consumed with health risks and safety uncertainties, Watson said his Christmas wish this year is for everyone to be safe for now and the betterment of future generations.
“We face a lot of challenges with diabetes and cancer, which are compounded by housing and water issues. I think we need people to be as healthy as possible, because when you're healthy you can provide for your family. That's important for our children to see, so they can provide when they get into their adult life.”