K'atl'odeeche First Nation declares state of emergency over COVID-19

The K'atl'odeeche First Nation near Hay River, N.W.T, has declared a state of emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect its members.

First Nation near Hay River, N.W.T, decided to go on lockdown to protect their elders

April Martel, chief of Kátł'odeeche First Nation, stands in front of the checkpoint. She said the First Nations council made the decision to call a lockdown after consulting with the community's elders. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

The K'atl'odeeche First Nation near Hay River, N.W.T, has declared a state of emergency until further notice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Anyone entering the First Nation, either by the all-season road or the ice road, will have to show a security guard proof of band membership. The public will be turned away until leadership decides the lockdown is over. 

Supply trucks carrying groceries and other supplies will still be allowed in the First Nation, a notice from the First Nation said.

Chief April Martel said the First Nation council decided to lock down the community after talking with their elders.

"If that sickness ever happens, it's going to make them really sick," Martel said. "It's scary. All our people are scared right now, they're panicking scared — and I've never seen that in my life." 

As of Thursday at 1:00 p.m. there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the N.W.T., and 222 tests had come back negative, according to the territory's Department of Health. 

Originally, the First Nation did not want to go into a full lockdown, but after a meeting earlier this week with elders and band management, Martel and the councillors made the call. 

The First Nation can declare a state of emergency at any time without clearance from other levels of government, including the territory, Martel said. 

A security guard asks the driver for proof of band membership at a checkpoint at the entrance to the K'atl'odeeche First Nations reserve. Only band members and essential services will be allowed to enter the community. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

The state of emergency from K'atl'odeeche First Nation is different than the public health emergency declared by the territorial government, Martel said, because of the blockade.

But she said all levels of government in the territory have the same goal. 

"We're all trying to protect our people," she said. "But I really wanted to lock this reserve down because I don't want any sickness coming in here at all." 

Now, the First Nation is asking people to go on the land to create a stockpile of traditional foods like dried meat, fish and traditional medicines. The First Nation already has a small pile ready to go, but Martel said more orders are being placed. 

"In case [COVID-19] hits, we want to be prepared," Martel said. "[It] is not here but [when] it is … that's when we really need to start supplying house to house." 

When it happens, we can be much more prepared.- Amos Cardinal, Band member

Staff members are also going door to door delivering food and medication to elders that are in self-isolation to make sure they have everything they need, Martel said. 

Martel said the lockdown will get more strict if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 near Hay River or on the reserve. 

Band member Amos Cardinal said council made the right decision to be prepared if or when a case of coronavirus hits his community. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

So far, Martel said none of the elders have been tested for COVID-19. Staff will have to call public health to get testing for anyone on the reserve. 

The reserve has also reduced their convenience store hours and are only letting in five people at a time. 

'It's inevitable,' says band member

Martel said she met with Premier Caroline Cochrane, the N.W.T.'s representative for the Assembly of First Nations, and other Indigenous leaders via teleconference Thursday to talk about some of the funding options that First Nations can access to get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

So far, Martel said they have not evaluated how expensive the blockade will be for their government. 

Band member Amos Cardinal said he is "worried in many ways" about his community and is glad council is acting quickly.

"When it happens, we can be much more prepared," he said. 

Martel said she hopes other First Nations will follow their lead.