Adapting to Uncertainty: First Nations Pandemic Planning

As the world continues to combat the spread of COVID-19, The Firelight Group commends the adaptability and resiliency of Indigenous governments and partners and we would like to raise up the many ways in which Indigenous communities are responding to crisis. 

Pandemic planning is important for Indigenous communities

As colonial history has demonstrated, Indigenous populations are often disproportionately impacted by pandemics. This is due to a number of factors including: inadequate health care; supply shortages; and lack of coordination, leadership, communication and information from government bodies. For community-based emergency preparedness plans to work effectively, they need to be comprehensive, specific, and tailored to address the needs, vulnerabilities and inequities that Indigenous communities face. Indigenous voices and values need to be accurately reflected in emergency preparedness plans and be intimately involved in the planning and implementation stages.

Many Indigenous communities have created Pandemic Response Plans as a response to global pandemics including H1N1 and the current COVID-19 health crisis. Recently, we have reviewed existing pandemic plans in First Nations communities. The response plans we reviewed vary based on a number of factors including how many community members are living on reserve, the community’s location, the community’s traditional knowledge, and their existing relationships with municipal, provincial, and federal levels of the Canadian government.

The Firelight Group

Key Elements of effective pandemic planning in Indigenous communities

Recommendations for pandemic planning can be categorized into three sections: Preventative Planning, Effective Emergency Response, and Communication. These strategies can be seen in the First Nation’s response plans that we examined.

Effective Preventative Planning calls for addressing the underlying inequities and social determinants that increase vulnerability to the spread of disease and include factors such as: improved housing conditions, increased access to social and material goods necessary for protecting against infection, supporting community programming aimed at addressing the roots health inequities, and developing culturally appropriate policies to aid in prevention.

It’s also important to consider the unique circumstances of Indigenous communities. This is where Effective Emergency Response strategies can be optimized and advanced, such as ensuring resources and supplies are distributed in a timely fashion, improving access to health care, and greater government collaboration, in particular with regards to both pharmaceutical and traditional medicines. It is imperative that community health is monitored and public health interventions are enacted to insure proper treatment and mitigation of the spread of influenza.

As with all planning, communication is key! For communication to be effective, it should be clear, consistent and accurate. Communication needs to be timely and appropriate in order to address community needs and potential barriers. Information should come from sources that are trusted by the community and should be delivered by a local community member.

In addition to these factors, there are eight key considerations that should be evaluated in pandemic planning: culture, language, and traditional knowledge; potential “access to care” challenges; the Medical Officer of Health; the delivery of health care services; occupational health and safety standards; staffing shortages; mobility of on-reserve First Nations; and the transportation of supplies.

For more information, please contact The Firelight Group:

For additional resources about Indigenous planning strategies please visit the following links from this list:

  1. Influenza Pandemic Planning Considerations in On Reserve First Nation Communities

  1. The 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic among First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada: Epidemiology and gaps in knowledge

  1. Determinants of the prevalence and severity of influenza infection in Indigenous populations in Canada

  1. Pandemic planning in Indigenous communities: Lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic in Canada

  1. The 2009 H1N1 Health Sector Pandemic Response in Remote and Isolated First Nation Communities of Sub-Arctic Ontario, Canada

  1. Yukon Government Pandemic Co-ordination Plan

  1. Justice Institute of British Columbia Aboriginal Disaster Resilience Planning Guide

For examples of First Nations pandemic plans please visit the following links:

?Akis’qnuk Community Plan for COVID-19 Pandemic Event

Aamjiwnaang First Nation Emergency Response Plan

Chippewas of the Thames First Nation Pandemic Plan

Hupačasath First Nation emergency Response Plan

Six Nations of the Grand River Pandemic Response Plan

Snuneymuxw Pandemic Plan

Uchucklesaht Tribe Government Pandemic Plan