Sask. company sending isolation shelters to help with COVID-19 crisis on Northern Ont. First Nation

A company owned by a Saskatchewan First Nation is sending six shelters to a Northern Ontario First Nation hit hard by an outbreak of COVID-19.

Kashechewan First Nation, a remote community located along the coast of the Hudson Bay, is facing a COVID-19 outbreak affecting more than 10 per cent of the reserve’s population.

The severity of the outbreak is being blamed on a chronic housing shortage, resulting in crowded homes and a lack of places to isolate.

Pro Metal Industries, owned by Pasqua First Nation, is part of efforts to send aid to Kashechewan through a partnership with Indigenous Services Canada that was formed at the start of the pandemic.

“We've been into over 45 First Nations communities throughout Canada, and a lot of them being very remote, fly-in communities,” said President of Pro Metal Industries Mark Brown. “So dealing with Kashechewan right now, this is the biggest emergency that we responded to since the beginning of the pandemic, so we've had a lot of experience but not quite on this scale."

The six dome-shaped shelters headed to Kashechewan each have approximately 37 square metres of floor space, including two bedrooms, a bathroom, and kitchen suite.

Kashechewan is only accessible by plane in the winter, so the shelters will be flown in with other supplies and can be put together on-site within days.

The domes also come with the benefit of their own independent infrastructure.

“Basically, it’s fully self contained. Fresh water tanks, sewer tanks and all operated by a generator,” Brown explained. “They don’t have to be hooked into the infrastructure in Kashechewan, so that really adds to the rapid deployment of them.”

Richard Missens, president and CEO of the Pasqua First Nation Group of Companies, said the situation in Kashechewan is not unlike the problems many First Nations face around the country.

“Limited access to health services, overcrowded housing conditions, limited access to education, all of these challenges make it more difficult and compound the complexities of dealing with a pandemic like COVID,” Missens said.

All six shelters are either in transport or on the ground in Kashechewan, with the goal of getting them up and running in the coming weeks.