Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc. – is issuing this statement along with the four Cree Nations that are in a partnership with Manitoba Hydro in the construction and operation of the Keeyask Generating Station in Northern Manitoba. The four First Nations are: Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Fox Lake Cree Nation, War Lake First Nation, and York Factory Cree Nation. On October 22, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed at the Keeyask site. Since then, an unspecified number of COVID-19 tests have been done on staff. Yesterday, First Nations leaders learned that additional positive cases have been confirmed and many more cases are presumed positives. Almost 10% of the workforce is now in isolation.
MKO and the four First Nations are demanding that the Province of Manitoba immediately declare the Keeyask construction site as code red under the province’s pandemic response system. The First Nations are asking the province to take aggressive action to bring the epidemic under control. MKO and the First Nations are extremely concerned about the lack of information Manitoba Hydro has provided on the spread of this virus. People from the four First Nations work at Keeyask and fear that people may have unknowingly brought COVID-19 back to their home communities before the first case of COVID-19 was detected on October 22. Manitoba Hydro cannot confirm on what date the virus may have appeared on site. The First Nations are working closely with public health officials to determine next steps.
Since the pandemic began in March 2020, MKO First Nations have expressed concerns about Manitoba Hydro’s plans for the Keeyask construction site. Manitoba Hydro has more than 750 employees at Keeyask who come and go from the site on rotating shifts—most employees have 21 days on and 7 days off. Manitoba Hydro has staff working at the site from various parts of Canada, including a current COVID-19 hotspot—Winnipeg.
“I commend the First Nations leaders who have worked diligently to try to protect our people. The provincial government must take aggressive action at the Keeyask construction site as there is an uncontrolled epidemic taking place. This site is not providing any hydro-electric power at this point, it is not an essential operation. MKO asserts that Manitoba Hydro and the Government of Manitoba need to put people before profits,” shared MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee.