Canada’s bishops and their Indigenous partners in the Guadalupe Circle are calling for “a decarceration plan” — sending inmates home to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 in heavily Indigenous prison populations.
In a Reflection on the Challenge and Opportunity of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Guadalupe Circle co-chairs Rosella Kinoshameg and Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin-Le Pas also urge people to look out for Indigenous women and children, who may be at greater risk of violence during the lockdown.
“We must not forget the truth revealed by the National Inquiry on murdered and missing Indigenous women and children (National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls). Those who have lived under threat of violence are experiencing increased vulnerability during this time of isolation,” said the May 8 statement.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle is a national coalition of Indigenous people, Catholic clergy, women religious, and lay people dedicated to healing the relationship between the Church and Canada’s First Nations.
The Guadalupe Circle reflection on COVID-19 was released just as a pattern of coronavirus outbreaks emerged in isolated, under-resourced Indigenous communities in northern Saskatchewan.
Over the May 9-10 weekend there were nine new cases across northern Saskatchewan, three of them in La Loche. A total of 105 COVID-19 cases have been identified in Saskatchewan’s thinly populated north.
Kinoshameg said she worries about small, under-resourced and isolated communities all across Canada’s north. In her own relatively well-equipped community in the unceded Wikwemikong Territory on Manitoulin Island, the community has set up a checkpoint on the boundary to keep track of everyone entering and leaving the reserve.
Kinoshameg is one of a raft of community volunteers checking in on older and isolated members of the community, making sure they’re well and have enough food.
Kinoshameg hopes the world after COVID-19 will not return to normal, but that people will strive to value the relationships in their lives.
“There’s always that hope,” she said. “That people will have a greater appreciation for other people, to live more harmoniously.”
“It (COVID-19) has highlighted the oppressive vulnerability of many Indigenous communities,” said the Guadalupe Circle statement. “Communities that suffer from inadequate and over-crowded housing; those that lack clean water; underfunded and inadequate health and community services, as well as unreliable infrastructure, that are at greater risk and result in communities living with heightened fears. While some places in Canada may be sensing the threat is receding, that is not so among those who have been often abandoned.”
The statement ends with a quote from Pope Francis’ April 12 letter to popular movements, calling for a post-COVID conversion that “puts an end to the idolatry of money and places human life and dignity at the centre.”