Some Indigenous leaders are asking community members to get tested for COVID-19 if they participated in either the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupé pilgrimage, or the Innu Nikamu music festival.
A resident of Wemotaci, in the Mauricie region, tested positive for the virus after attending both events.
The Council of the Abitibiwinni First Nation in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, despite being hundreds of kilometres from Wemotaci, is advising residents to self-isolate and contact health authorities to be tested for COVID-19.
Chief Monik Kistabish said she’s not sure how many people from her community attended the typically very popular events this year because of the pandemic, but she’s asking anyone who did to get tested as a precaution.
“Usually it’s really popular,” she said. “I never went, but I know they get lots of people that go every year.”
Officials in Uashat mak Mani-utenam — a community neighbouring Sept-Îles on the North Shore, where the Innu Nikamu festival was held — are also asking residents there to get tested.
The festival’s organizers shared a notice on social media from Uashat mak Mani-utenam about the possibility of exposure, advising attendees to take appropriate steps if they think they may have been in contact or are experiencing symptoms.
Kistibish says people in Abitibiwinni are close to a town and hospital so they can get tested easily, whereas it will be far more difficult for people in more remote communities.
“We want to make sure we keep our members healthy and safe,” she said. “That’s the main reason, because we all know that among the First Nations we have certain living conditions that are different from the rest of Canadians.”
Kistabish said there are no confirmed positive cases in communities in the area, but that doesn’t mean the virus isn’t circulating. She called for continued vigilance.
“We have made provisions either from the First Nations community, or other communities who may have been exposed, so we can accommodate them and we can arrange for them to have a test,” said Doctor Omobola Sobanjo from Abitibi-Témiscamingue public health.