by Phil Ambroziak

Stay away for everyone’s safety.

That’s the message being shared by First Nations throughout the Northwest and other parts of Saskatchewan in the wake of the COVID-19 scare and the steps necessary to stop the spread of coronavirus. While all nine bands that make up the Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC) are taking the current situation seriously, one reserve in particular already has a plan in place to keep its people safe.

“The Canoe Lake Cree First Nation chief and council are working to ensure the health and safety of our community members is a top priority during this difficult time as we deal with this worldwide pandemic,” stated Canoe Lake chief Francis Iron in a letter to band members dated March 19. “Chief and council will be putting up a security checkpoint at the entrance of the reserve starting the evening of March 20. This checkpoint will be temporary with a 24/7 schedule for the security staff. At this time, we will do our best to monitor traffic coming into the band to see where they are travelling from, as well as if they have any business to be here if they are not a community member. Jans Bay and Cole Bay residents are considered community members.”

Iron went on to state the initial phase of this checkpoint will involve talking with drivers to see where they are coming from and to remind them to self-isolate if they have been to any major cities or in contact with infected individuals.

“There is a 14-day period in which symptoms of COVID-19 can appear after exposure, and the elderly, children and people with health conditions are most vulnerable when exposed to this virus,” he continued. “The next phase of the checkpoint may be upgraded to stop all traffic leaving the community to remind them of the risk of COVID-19 and to be careful when they are out in public, and possibly to self-isolate upon their return.”

Also, non-local traffic coming into the community is now being asked to turn around and not enter the reserve at this time. This past weekend, Iron also said all traffic entering the reserve will be searched for alcohol and illegal drugs.

“There will also be no parties allowed on the reserve,” he said. “We are taking these necessary steps to protect and ensure the safety of our members. We are asking and encouraging you to also follow the recommendations set out by the federal and provincial governments.”

Meanwhile, band offices at other reserves throughout the Northwest have been temporarily closed to the public.