Settlers being settlers

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, “The MacPherson Missive.” Subscribe for free at:

Yesterday, an emergency room nurse in the city of Steinbach (population 15,829), located about 58km southeast of Winnipeg said her hospital is “drowning and desperate for help.

Steinbach, is located on the traditional lands of the nomadic Ojibway-speaking Anishinabe people. Russian-Mennonite settlers from the Ukraine moved into the area in the late 1800’s. The small city, known for its Mennonite roots, is now being called a “hot spot within a hot spot.” The health region has some of the highest per-capita case rates in Manitoba, the province which now as the highest per-capita rates in Canada.

Then today, about 100 people gathered in Steinbach to protest public health restrictions and shout profanities at provincial conservation and health officers who started issuing fines. The Saturday event received widespread coverage on national television, in between doomsday COVID-19 reports from the US and a mini-MAGA march.

Ironically, protestors mostly wore no masks and did not physically distance, but some were seen wearing Guy Fawkes masks. Many brought their children to observe the spectacle, including the adults who were breaking the law. Nice.

“We will not be muzzled,” was one of the signs carried by a small girl. Everyone does have permission to make complete fools of themselves. The demonstration of ignorance and selfishness was pretty stark, given the situation in Manitoba right now.

Contrast this “anti-life” protest as one Twitter observer called it, with the local 94-year-old, John Plett, who started his own walkathon fundraiser. Shuffling along in his walker through the hallways of his supportive living home for months, he’s been raising funds for food relief overseas.

Meanwhile, over at the Bethesda Regional Health Centre, nurses are triaging patients in their cars because there’s no room in emergency. There are shortages of basic equipment, PPE cannot be restocked quickly enough, and paramedics are spending hours driving around trying to find facilities for COVID-19 patients.

Manitoba First Nations are in lockdown as hospitalizations and deaths increase at an alarming rate. First Nations people make up about nine per cent of the province’s population but account for 12 per cent of the deaths.

Of note, epidemics have swept this area throughout history. In the late 1800s, it included scarlet fever, whooping cough, and diphtheria. In the spring of 1884 alone, more than 70 people died, mostly children. In 1918, Spanish flu struck and Mennonites in the region died at a rate nearly twice that of other ethnic groups.

Seems that some lessons are never learned.

Jody MacPherson is a professional communicator, commuting cyclist (currently working from home), and is descended from a long line of settlers.


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