How would you like body bags as your H1N1 preparation?

Outrage in Canada as the government sends native communities not medicine but bodybags in preparation for the upcoming winter and round two of swine flu

Canada’s impoverished native community asks for medicine and hand sanitizers to pre-empt swine flu, and they get sent body bags. Great message huh?

That’s right, the outrage du jour in Canada involves possibly one of the most stupid bureaucratic bungles in recent times. Of course deep damage control is underway with the expected/required inquiry, but it has left this country gobsmacked to say the least and worried about further damaging already fractured race relations to state the obvious.

The native reserves have already had a pretty desperate brush with the first round of swine flu, with quite a number being flown to big city hospitals where ventilators were available. That’s what happens in poor communities with bad health to begin with, and where people are living in very close quarters in unhealthy homes.

Now as Swine Flu II lurks with the approach of winter, First Nations communities asked for assistance with medicine, hand sanitizers, gloves and masks which are touted as first line defense. In the same shipments to reserves in Manitoba came hundreds of body bags.

What, asked tribal chiefs, does the government know that the First Nations peoples don’t? They packed up the bags and sent them back to Ottawa.

It was not a head in the sand response but a natural reaction of a callous, offensive and obscene action, for which of course the government is desperately sorry.

Aboriginal communities – and Canada is not alone here – with their poverty, bad housing, high risk water supplies and poor health suffer disproportionately in all social measures, and pandemics only multiply that.

In Parliament the MP for Labrador Todd Russell – himself a Métis – likened the delivery to one in his own electorate nearly a hundred years ago, in which the government of the day responded to an influenza outbreak by sending planks of wood from which to fashion coffins.

The parallel with this latest grim delivery was unmistakable, he said, and it whacked any confidence First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities can have in the government to take care of their health.

The government was asked to consider how doctors and nurses in these communities felt when they opened their much awaited medicines to find body bags. Unless the government didn’t get it, it was pointed out that body bags won’t actually stop the spread of H1N1 and the only message they send is the government is more focused on burying the victims than stopping the virus. Well in some communities, that is.

But has there been a complete apology? Heck no, there’s an inquiry underway. What has been tendered is a sort of apology qualified by statements about how unfortunate it was that the body bags were seen as being part of the anti-H1N1 supplies. Apparently it was “regrettable” the bags showed up with the kits.

In the meantime the insult has ripped through the remote native communities as they ask whether Canada is giving up on them. It has seen people erect pickets accusing the government of writing them off and asking why the money it cost to send body bags could not have been spent on Advil and Tylenol, vaccines and the like. Instead they received reason to panic.

And there’s the cultural dimension in all of this in terms of the way many First Nations peoples prepare for death. One of their chiefs took to the airwaves making it plain to the rest of the country that they certainly do not invite death in. Preparing for death by stocking body bags is to do just that.

Oh, and before you start feeling sorry for Health Canada, it is important to point out that government agency was very recently copping flak for being concerned about sending hand sanitizers to the native communities at all, for fear the residents would consume the alcohol based gel!

How long ago were anthrax and smallpox laced blankets considered a fair trade for land?