ISN MaskwaCanada’s First Indigenous Emergency Operations Center By Ernie Louttit, Emergency Planning and Community Engagement Coordinator, ISN MaskwaA new resource has been added to the emergency operations capacity in Ontario specifically to assist Indigenous leadership in leading their own response for their communities in the event of an emergency situation.

ISN Maskwa, an indigenous company owned by Missanabie Cree First Nation incorporated in November of 2020, has created Canada’s first operational Indigenous Emergency Operations Centre (IEOC) which is based in Sault Ste. Marie. The IEOC has been operating 24/7 since April 2022.

One of the primary missions of ISN Maskwa is to assist indigenous communities in building trained teams of leaders and community support personnel to support an Indigenous-led response during evacuations or community emergencies. The leadership teams have been trained using the IMS (Incident Management System) model to levels 300 and 400. 

On August 23, 2022, the IEOC had its first operational deployment request. Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) requested ISN Maskwa to assist First Nation and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) in assessing the security operations in remote nursing stations in Northern Ontario. It was believed that the ongoing nursing shortage in Ontario was causing tensions between community members and medical staff working in remote communities.

The IEOC was activated and within 48 hours, supervisors and trained community support personnel were deployed to five remote communities. By September 11, 2022 and despite transportation and accommodation challenges, assessments and additional security support were completed. Many lessons were learned and the IEOC proved it had the robustness and flexibility to work with Indigenous communities on short notice. Health care is a priority as well as treaty rights; this deployment showed Indigenous communities that FNIHB is committed to ensuring they get the health care workers they need.

The objective of the IEOC is to make emergency response as effective and accessible to Indigenous communities as possible. Indigenous leaders who see it as a viable alternative to the traditional emergency responses will make the choice based on their own community needs.
Responding to EmergenciesThe Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC) based in Toronto is required to provide emergency response operational leadership to 15 million citizens of Ontario. This is a daunting and complex task in the event of multiple emergencies. The IEOC will assist in streamlining the federal and provincial response to emergencies in Indigenous communities.

Past “After Action Reports” following fire and flood seasons consistently had a theme from Indigenous leaders. They expressed frustration with the lack of consultation and their inability to provide their input as to what was best for their people.
Depending on the urgency and scope of the emergency, the initial consultation sometimes had to take a backseat to the need to move the communities to safety. A lot of the frustration expressed came from the situation after the communities were on the ground in the host community. The solutions to the challenges faced by Indigenous people displaced from their homes in a host community were expensive and often done with little regard to the evacuated.
Changing Emergency ManagementThe Indigenous Emergency Operations Centre is the start of a change in emergency management for Indigenous communities in Ontario. When not actively managing an emergency, the IEOC team will be gathering emergency plans and coordinating with emergency managers from Tribal councils and Indigenous communities that chose to work with this new model of emergency response. The IEOC is strongly supported by Indigenous Services Canada because it is Indigenous-led and it has the potential to provide the template for other Indigenous Emergency Operations Centers in Canada.

Using the knowledge and leadership of the effected communities allows the IEOC to ensure an Indigenous-led response to reduce the stress and trauma of evacuations. The majority of the leadership of the IEOC are members of Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario and are composed of retired police officers and community leaders. They are familiar with the Indigenous communities they are working with and know the conditions on the ground.

The IEOC will reduce the time spent on all partners calls that so many of us in emergency management are familiar with. They will accomplish this by engaging the effected community’s leadership and forwarding the requests for assistance to responding provincial and federal agencies. This, in turn, will assist provincial and federal emergency managers to have more efficient communications with Indigenous communities during critical times.

By utilizing the IEOC, Indigenous leaders will have a direct input into managing emergences in their own communities. They will have faster response to any queries they have and an enhanced flexibility in their decision making based on those responses. Their point-of-contact will be other Indigenous leaders with similar backgrounds and points-of-view.

The Indigenous Emergency Operations Centre is a long overdue initiative and an idea whose time has come. The IEOC team looks forward to building relationships and helping to bring great leaders together for a common purpose: Safe “unexpected gatherings” in emergent situations, led by Indigenous communities for Indigenous communities and working with host communities for the best possible outcomes.
For more information or to contact the IEOC visit https://www.isn-maskwa.ca/.
Ernie Louttit is a member of the Missanabie Cree First Nation. He is employed with ISN Maskwa in the role of Emergency Planning and Community Engagement Coordinator and has 35 years of operational experience, eight years with the Canadian Armed Forces serving in the infantry and Military Police, and 27 years with the Saskatoon Police Service. Since retiring from policing, Mr. Louttit has written four books, three on policing and leadership and, most recently, a novel. He has worked with the ISN Maskwa team through an unprecedented 2021 fire season, the 2022 flood season, and the recent nursing station deployment. Additionally, he has played the role of Trainer on ISN Maskwa’s Evacuation Support Specialist Security training courses and Supervisor, deployed with the ISNM trained community support personnel.
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