It began with six people operating out of an obscure corner of a municipal public works building and today comprises a 12-member team that has saved lives by reducing emergency-response times in remote communities.
Hiawatha First Nation recently celebrated a significant achievement—the 10th anniversary of working with the Township of Otonabee-South Monaghan to provide a First Response Team in the community. Hiawatha lies on the north shore of Rice Lake, 18 miles south of Peterborough, Ontario.
At ceremonies on September 12, the team members were each presented with the highest honor that a community can bestow: the awarding of an eagle feather.
“Hiawatha's first response team has responded to almost every home in our community over the decade they've been active,” said Hiawatha First Nation Chief Sandra Moore.
“Each of these first responders is unquestionably deserving of this honor,” said Deputy Grand Chief Denise Stonefish, who presented the sacred feather to the team members and versed them with traditional teaching on its significance and care. The event was also attended by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn a-in-Chut Atleo.
The idea for a first response team started a decade ago during a service review by Otonabee-South Monaghan. Fire Chief Ted Bryan determined that the area—which included Hiawatha—was under-served, especially during medical emergencies, when every second counts. Bryan and Hiawatha member Ralph Loucks presented a plan to the chief and the council for a First Response Team that would provide service to the First Nation and surrounding area. Loucks, who had been a fire services volunteer for 20 years in Keene and had served on the Hiawatha First Nation Council, agreed to lead.
“Initially they started out with minimal equipment that was stored in part of our public works building,” he said. “Over the past ten years we have continued to add equipment and training. Today our first response team has grown from six to twelve members. Response times have dramatically been reduced, precious time that is critical in emergency situations.”
Hiawatha First Nation is made up of the Mississauga people who have made Rice Lake home since the 1600s. Hiawatha belongs to the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI), which guards the aboriginal and treaty rights of its eight member First Nations.
The theme of the 10th anniversary celebration was building relationships, something that Hiawatha has done with the surrounding communities for a long time, specifically through the partnership.
“We have built strong relationships with our neighbors over many years,” said Moore. “This has allowed us to look at ways to provide benefits to each other.”
Hiawatha has provided capital investment in the team and a building for its operations, while Otonabee-South Monaghan does all the training, also maintaining the vehicles and some equipment. Moore noted that the key to the success of this type of venture is finding dedicated individuals within the community.
“For communities who are isolated, there is a higher need and more difficulty in pulling it all together, but it can start with a group of people with basic First Aid/CPR and grow from there,” she said. “We are extremely proud of our First Response Team. We are also proud of our partners who work with us, the Township of Otonabee-South Monaghan and Emergency Management Ontario.”