June Briefs

Cowessess First Nation confirms existence of 751 unmarked graves

Chief Cadmus Delorme of Cowessess First Nation, located approximately 150 kilometers east of Regina, Sask., announced the confirmation of 751 unmarked graves near the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in a June 24 press conference.

The Marieval Indian Residential School was established in 1898 and initially overseen by the Roman Catholic church. The residential school closed in 1997 and was demolished two years later. Delorme emphasized that this is not the discovery of a mass grave, but rather unmarked graves.

Around 1960, headstones marking the graves were removed.

“We didn’t remove these headstones,” said Delorme. “Removing headstones is a crime in this country, and we are treating this like a crime scene at the moment.” The confirmation comes after recent discoveries of mass gravesites across the country. In late May, the remains of 215 children were found at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C. Earlier this month, 104 potential graves were found near the site of the Brandon Indian Residential School.

Calls have been made by residential school survivors and their allies to cancel Canada Day festivities to honour the children lost to the system.

A vigil was held on June 26 in honour of the 751 people whose gravesites were confirmed.

Survivors of the residential school program are encouraged to reach out to the 24-hour National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 if they are experiencing distress or pain from their trauma.

Spread of COVID-19 slowing, Delta variant looming

With a third-wave peak of 601 new cases of COVID-19 on May 19 and a decline to 91 as of June 25, it seems that Manitoba is coming to the end of the third wave of the pandemic.

Manitoba achieved the first milestone listed in the provincial 4-3-2-One Great Summer Reopening Path ahead of time and as of June 26, a variety of public health restrictions have been lifted.

The first milestone, to be met originally by July 1, was to have 70 per cent of eligible Manitobans over the age of 12 receive at least their first dose of a vaccine and 25 per cent of those eligible receive their second dose.

As of June 28, 75.2 per cent of eligible Manitobans over the age of 12 and 63.5 per cent of all Manitobans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 32.6 per cent of all Manitobans are now fully vaccinated.

In an interview with the Manitoban, Dr. Anand Kumar, a professor of medicine at the University of Manitoba, raised concerns about the Delta variant, which became dominant in major outbreaks in both Israel and England despite their high rates of people with two doses of the vaccine.

“Even though we’ve got reasonable single-dose vaccination rates, that would have probably protected us against the Alpha variant, but they won’t afford us nearly the level of protection with the Delta variant,” he said.

Dr. Kumar hopes to see more emphasis on getting people their second vaccination doses from the provincial government.

“If we do this without […] focusing on double-vaccination rates, and facts on the ground — What are our case counts? What is our test positivity? — if we don’t pay close attention, then we’ll see a major surge in Delta,” he said. “It will occur probably shortly before and going into school opening in early September […] it will potentially explode in the fall unless we’ve got really significantly higher double-dose vaccination [rates] than we have right now.”

According to Dr. Kumar, a single dose of the vaccine provides approximately 30 per cent protection against the Delta variant, while two doses provide reasonable protection.

Manitoba Nurses Union avoids strike action, reaches agreement with province

Weeks after the Manitoba Nurses Union voted overwhelmingly — 98 per cent — in favour of strike action on June 10, the union has reached an agreement with the province.

According to a press release issued by the union June 26, “in the event bargaining is unsuccessful, the parties will be able to initiate binding arbitration without 60 days of job action.” Under current legislation, after 60 days of a labour dispute — a strike or lockout — the parties can enter binding arbitration. In this process, employers and unions unable to come to an agreement are assisted by a neutral party who has final say.

Manitoba’s nurses have not had a contract since the provincial government legislated a wage freeze for public sector employees in 2017.

The Public Services Sustainability Act, as it was called, was struck down by courts as unconstitutional in June 2020, the judge referring to the legislation as “draconian.” A month later in August 2020 the provincial government filed notice to appeal the decision.

The Manitoba Nurses Union represents over 12,000 nurses in the province.