A rural First Nations community has partnered with a drone delivery service to receive critical medical supplies required to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) announced an agreement with the Beausoleil First Nation, an Indigenous community about 175 kilometres north of Toronto, to create flight routes that would allow drones to fly supplies back and forth from the nation’s mainland to their main reserve on Christian Island.
The drones would bring in much needed personal protection equipment and other supplies like COVID-19 test kits to Beausoleil residents.
“The community is in a remote area where medical resources and services are limited,” said Landon Bibeau, an executive at OEC Group, a distribution company funding the project, “especially during the COVID-19 pandemic where human to human contact is sometimes difficult.
Drones may be the solution to an ongoing problem remote First Nations communities face with having limited access to health care, which has been exacerbated throughout the pandemic.
“To our knowledge, this is the first announced COVID-19 related drone logistics project working with a humanitarian aid agency in Canada,” said Michael Zahra, CEO at DDC.
At the start of the pandemic, many Indigenous leaders and health-care advocates warned that First Nations communities would be ill-equipped to deal with the spread of the novel coronavirus. The federal government had initially allotted $305 million COVID-19 for First Nation communities, an amount Indigenous leaders said wouldn’t be enough.
By the end of April, 23 Indigenous communities around Canada had reported COVID-19 cases. Around the same time, the federal government announced it was adding an additional $650 million to the fund.
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Beausoleil First Nation, like many other Indigenous communities, has restricted travel into their land, which becomes a popular cottage location in the summer. One of the Beausoleil’s reserves is located on an island only accessible by ferry, a service that the community had to restrict as part of their pandemic response.
Members of the Nation still remember the loss they faced during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, which killed 50,000 Canadians, and it’s helped inform their response.
“We all can recount those stories of people, young and old, being buried sometimes two to three per day,” wrote Jeff Monague for the Orillia Times. Monague is Beausoleil’s former chief and currently a member of their COVID-19 response group.
“It was 1919 and we lacked the infrastructure and medical assistance to deal with such a situation,” he said.
Health-care advocates and Indigenous leaders warned that a continued lack of supplies and infrastructure meant that keeping the virus out was incremental to the health safety of their remote communities. Unlike urban areas where the virus spread but people have ready access to medical services, getting access to supplies in rural First Nations was difficult even before the pandemic. Leaders warned that if the virus got in, it was unlikely to get out.
The drone deliveries present an advantage because the community can receive supplies while limiting the amount of physical contact — which for a remote nation can make all the difference.
As of June 7, the government has reported 227 positive cases of COVID-19 and five deaths within Indigenous communities.