An unusually warm winter meant an early closure for the 700-km ice road in northern Ontario, leaving Chief Donny Morris an extra hurdle to jump as he races to keep his tiny fly-in community safe, healthy and stocked with crucial supplies in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.
Morris is chief of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) Reserve, an Oji-Cree community of 1,700 people nestled on the shores of Big Trout Lake, 580 km north of Thunder Bay. Morris’ leadership is vital to keeping the novel corona virus out of the community, while ensuring members of KI have enough supplies to get them through the months ahead.
“We’re busy suspending operations and planning to deal with this virus if it comes,” says Morris. “Everybody is hunkered down and taking precautionary measures.”
The global pandemic poses a special threat to northern Indigenous communities like KI that are already on the edge due to a lack of reliable infrastructure.
“These communities have to deal with tremendous shocks, like floods or fires, on a regular basis,” says Tracey Galloway, assistant professor of anthropology at U of T Mississauga. “Now they are managing in an overwhelming public health emergency.”
The anthropologist and former intensive care nurse is part of an interdisciplinary research group from U of T studying the role that infrastructure, such as airports and ice roads, plays in the health of Indigenous communities in northern Ontario.