Nova Scotia

Eskasoni First Nation takes steps to declare state of emergency

The largest Mi'kmaw Nation in Atlantic Canada says it will declare a state of emergency to enforce public health measures if residents do not comply with health and safety recommendations relating to COVID-19.

Chief Leroy Denny says a quarter of band members do not stay home, wash hands or maintain social distance

Eskasoni First Nation Chief Leroy Denny announced a new bylaw on Friday that will allow the band to declare a state of emergency, if needed, to enforce protections against spreading COVID-19. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The Eskasoni First Nation says it will declare a state of emergency to enforce public health measures if residents do not comply with health and safety recommendations relating to COVID-19.

At a press conference Friday outside his home, Chief Leroy Denny said about 75 per cent of the Nova Scotia band's 4,500 members understand the need to stay home as much as possible, wash their hands properly and maintain social distancing.

The rest need stronger measures to encourage compliance with the new rules, he said.

"We are still experiencing non-compliance in regards to our recommendations for health and safety," said Denny, who is in self-isolation after having visited with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, who recently tested positive for COVID-19.

"We must act now in order to ensure maximum protection to our community and my council and I have not taken this extreme measure lightly."

Sharon Rudderham, director of health at the Eskasoni Health Centre, says officials are working hard to teach the community the basics of social distancing to protect against coronavirus spread. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

As of Friday, March 20, Nova Scotia had five confirmed and 10 presumptive cases of COVID-19.

The chief said he's not yet ready to declare a state of emergency, but Mi'kmaw people are vulnerable to the coronavirus due to high rates of diabetes and heart disease.

Denny said declaring an emergency will only be needed if people in the community don't follow the rules.

People are encouraged to stay home and only go out to do grocery shopping or other essential errands.

The chief and council are simply taking extra steps to protect the community ahead of any local COVID-19 diagnoses.

"We're not going to wait for cases, or we're not going to wait for deaths," said Denny.

Sharon Rudderham, director of health at the Eskasoni Health Centre, told CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton on Friday that people in the community are "scared."

"We're struggling right now," she said. "We do have some supplies. We've been told there is a stockpile somewhere, but I think that's in Ottawa somewhere.

"Community members are concerned. They want gloves, they want masks, they want hand sanitizer."

Rudderham said officials are working hard to teach the community the basics around social distancing and they need better stocks of supplies to protect health-care workers and vulnerable community members.

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About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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