Travel restrictions reveal double-standard, says Canoe Lake Cree First Nation resident
Reserve under travel restrictions, lake just south used for recreational fishing is not
Rose Durocher longs to see her family.
Her home community of Canoe Lake Cree First Nation is under government travel restrictions, even though there are zero known local active COVID-19 cases.
"I really miss seeing my kids," she said. Her family lives in Meadow Lake, Prince Albert and Saskatoon.
"I want my family around me and I think that's the saddest part for anybody else that's in the north."
Her community is about 170 km southeast of La Loche, the village at the centre of a northwestern outbreak that has started to ease up.
Durocher said unfairness seemed to grow as provincial checkpoints that required documentation to travel, even for an appointment, were put in place.
People are allowed to travel for tourism or family visits almost everywhere as Saskatchewan opens up. Meanwhile, Durocher still has limitations on grocery runs to Meadow Lake.
Chief decries 'double-standard'
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said in a news release that since Chief Francis Iron wrote to Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab on May 2, there has been "an emphasis on northerners having to justify their travel and their essential needs."
Iron wrote a different letter to Minister Lori Carr, made public on Tuesday, to discuss a "double-standard."
"It appears that the needs of recreational users (fishing-outfitting) is an essential service that is promoted by the province, whilst the northwest citizens' essential survival needs are treated like plague within this pandemic."
Iron said that earlier he had asked the government for help on the reduction of alcohol sales to prevent gathering, help with perimeter security and restriction on non-essential travel to the north.
"What we received is a takeover on the perimeter security that didn't allow for travel to the south for essential goods and services, and the granting of non-essential recreational users to access the north."
'Influx' in non-essential visitors
Durocher said she witnessed this on Sunday when going to her family's nearby cabin near Keeley Lake Lodge, which is about 35 kilometres south of Canoe Lake Cree First Nation but not included on the list of communities affected by northwest travel restrictions.
Durocher said people heading to Keeley Lake travel on the First Nation's land to get there. On Sunday, she said she saw several vehicles, with boats in tow, and what appeared to be tourists who weren't distancing.
"There were about 15 guys standing there, drinking beer."
She said it was clear they were not from the area and wondered "how come they can come here and we can't go out?" Other members of the Canoe Lake Cree First Nation are wondering the same thing and have used social media to express frustration.
"We have seen an influx in vacationers coming up North to use their recreational cabins. A number of our traditional land users and fishermen have also been seeing a lot of non-essential visitors fishing on the lakes" said Meadow Lake Tribal Council Tribal Chief Richard Ben in the FSIN statement.
"We agree that there is a need to limit travel in the North due to COVID-19, but why isn't that same need for travel restrictions not being enforced upon southern vacationers?"
Restrictions taking a toll on mental health
The restrictions have not boded well for community members' mental health, Durocher said, pointing to online posts she has seen. Durocher is a wellness and mental health counsellor on the reserve.
"A lot of hurting anger or depression or anxiety, all of these were surfacing due to that lockdown," she said."I felt so powerless because I couldn't do anything, I couldn't help anyone."
She said she tries to check in through social media, sending messages of encouragement or positivity.
Iron also noted in the FSIN statement that the lockdown "has triggered some severe trauma for a number of our community members that are Residential School survivors."
Durocher feels like they've been ostracized from the south, and said she has seen racist comments online directed toward northerners since the restrictions have been in place.
She said she wants her community members to be treated like others in Saskatchewan.
"There's people with COVID-19 in Saskatoon. There's no restrictions over there," she said, adding she knows she can travel safely. "I want to be safe because I don't want to take this COVID-19, if I do get it, to anybody that I care about."
Province has no plans to amend travel restrictions
Asked how she would feel if the restrictions aren't lifted soon, Durocher said "I know I have to accept it. I'll feel angry. I'll feel frustrated. But what can I do? I can't fight against Moe."
A provincial spokesperson said in an email that a date to lift restrictions for travel in the northwest has not been set, and that there are no specific numbers in place that would be required to have these measures lifted.
"Public health officials continue to reassess provincial public health risks based on the best available evidence as the situation evolves. This includes removing or changing restrictions."