Indigenous communities and the COVID-19 pandemic

On July 2nd, 2020, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation held its third webinar in the series Emergence. This episode featured prominent speakers who discussed the COVID-19 pandemic’s implications for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities in Canada.


Hosted by Robert Steiner (2019 Mentor) and special guest Memee Lavell-Harvard (2003 Scholar), two panel discussions featured Romeo Saganash (2005 Mentor), Sophie Thériault (2003 Scholar), the Honourable Patti LaBoucane-Benson (2004 Scholar) and the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell (2004 Mentor) as panelists. Sébastien Brodeur-Girard (2016 Scholar) and Jamie Snook (2017 Scholar) offered closing remarks.  



The speakers highlighted the success of the measures taken by several Indigenous communities across the country in response to the pandemic, thereby demonstrating the importance of the self-determination of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. 

For instance, Patti LaBoucane-Benson reported that within her community in Alberta (Treaty 6 territory), an immediate response to the pandemic was instituted by leaders based on intergenerational knowledge of disease. She stressed that the deep interconnectedness in the community helped people survive the first wave of the pandemic. 

Sébastien Brodeur-Girard observed that Indigenous communities have managed the impacts of the pandemic effectively compared to provincial and federal governments, which he said have reacted rather than directed actions in response to the crisis. He said Indigenous communities’ models of crisis management should inspire other governments. 

Jamie Snook highlighted the diversity of experiences with COVID-19 among Indigenous communities. He remarked that in his Inuit community in Labrador, guidelines such as the one-mask-per-person project were quickly put in place in response to the pandemic, which demonstrated the need for self-determination and place-based policies depending on the needs of each community.