Politics - COVID-19 on colonies requires understanding

Our provincial motto may be from “many people, strength”, but Saskatchewan has always had its share of tension between various groups.

Perhaps this is no different than anywhere else in the world. Many have had far worse histories.

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But it is to say a worldwide pandemic like this one can inflame long-dormant feelings of animosity.

Certainly this is something that Saskatchewan’s Hutterite community says it's now feeling as a result of some of its colonies being hit by COVID-19.

Patience, tolerance and understanding are now needed from both outsiders and those living on colonies.

It is simply a fact that cases of COVID-19 on an estimated 17 colonies mostly in southwest have caused an explosion of active case numbers in this province.

There were 43 active cases on a colony in the rural municipality of Lawtonia added in one day. There were only three cases in all of Regina.

Suddenly, Saskatchewan has vaulted to the second-highest per capita active case COVID-19 case in the country, surpassing Quebec and trailing only Alberta.

But what we should most learn from all this is that COVID-19 does not discriminate. Regardless of race, creed or colour, it seeks out vulnerable populations and hammers them.

We saw this in north where a few workers returning from jobs in the Alberta oil sands infected the entire community of La Loche and area that have long-suffered from a housing shortage, overcrowding and poverty.

This led to the shutting down of the entire Saskatchewan “far north”… even though the cases were largely limited to La Loche and the Clearwater River Dene First Nation.

By no small coincidence, many Metis and First Nations residents not from the La Loche area say they were treated with suspicion when they went south for either business, shopping or medical appointments.

Right now, Saskatchewan’s Hutterite community faces similar stigmatization. It has gotten so bad that the Hutterian Safety Council (HSC) requested in a letter to the Saskatchewan Party government that it stop identifying colonies in its daily reporting of COVID-19 cases.

 “Our primary concern is that the Ministry of Health is attaching cultural and religious attributes to COVID-19 cases. This occurs when reporting includes a reference to Hutterite communities or the more recent thinly veiled euphemism, ‘communal living setting’,” the HSC wrote in the letter.

It should be noted that Premier Scott Moe and Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) have been adamant that the public should neither be blamed nor stigmatized the Hutterite community for COVID-19.

It bears repeating that the novel coronavirus is everywhere and we need to be vigilant everywhere at all times to stop its spread.

We all truly need to understand what’s happening and keep it in its proper context.

There are close to 100 Hutterite colonies in this province and only 17 have reported cases – some with just a case or two. Notwithstanding the recent numbers, it’s a very small percentage of this community that has been infected.

Moreover, both Moe and Rural and Remote Health Minister Warren Kaeding say infected colonies have been exceedingly co-operative in the fight, agreeing to abandon their communal eating traditions, implementing social distance requirements and being exceedingly careful to ensure those with business contacts to the colonies are kept at a safe distance.

“We can’t stigmatize an entire culture because of the actions of a few,” Mary-Ann Kirkby, author of ‘I Am Hutterite’, recently told CTV news.

But this requires a delicate balance – patience and understanding from both sides.

This is a public health crisis in which people must know where outbreaks occur – especially in situations where officials need to trace contacts.

The Hutterite community needs to appreciate this, but the rest of us need to appreciate how difficult it must be for these communities right now.

We are truly all in this together.

Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics since 1983.

© Copyright Yorkton This Week

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