Saskatchewan

More Sask. Indigenous communities take measures to prevent spread of COVID-19

More Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan are introducing measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Monitoring, travel restrictions, colour-coded cards among methods being used by bands to prevent spread

Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme says new measures have been introduced in the community to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Rob Kruk/CBC)

More Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan are introducing measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The meaures are needed, said Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron, who noted that First Nations people are already faced with challenges in accessing health care and with overcrowding in on-reserve homes.

"It just makes it much, much, much more challenging for First Nations to get those services," he said. 

He agreed with the sentiments shared last week by Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Peter Beatty, who said Indigenous communities are more vulnerable to the virus.

A tweet by the File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council on Tuesday said the Carry The Kettle Nakoda Nation and Pasqua First Nation had put checkpoints in place in their communities.

The tribal council said it expected several more communities to take the same measures in the coming days.

Another notice from Cumberland House, located about 300 kilometres east of Prince Albert, said both the village and the Cumberland House Cree Nation were implementing a local state of emergency. 

The notice was published on Monday and signed by village Mayor Kelvin McKay, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan regional director Ryan Carriere and Cumberland House Cree Nation Chief Rene Chaboyer.

The notice said the measures were put in place due to the "alarming spread of the virus," and because elders, children, pregnant people and people with chronic illnesses represent up to 60 per cent of the population between both communities, while access to medical care is limited and overcrowding exists.

These were the rules that accompanied a Cumberland House statement declaring a local emergency related to COVID-19. (Victoria Laliberte Memorial Health Centre/Facebook)

"Our province is seeing a high increase in the number of people testing positive and there continues to be residents who are not taking this matter as seriously as they should," the notice said. 

Communication key in Cowessess 

New measures are also in place on the Cowessess First Nation. 

Chief Cadmus Delorme said that because of a state of anxiety and fear due to social media use, the band has a plan in place to provide clear communication to its members.

"We're in interesting times and we are living in the south, along the No. 1 highway. We live beside Crooked Lake and Round Lake, so it's not just Cowessess First Nation," Delorme told CBC Radio. 

He said Cowessess, like other bands, is monitoring who comes into, and leaves, the reserve. 

He said the people who live on-reserve make up about 25 per cent of the band's population, and there are strong ties between those who live in Cowessess and the people who live off-reserve.

"We do not want to break up kinships. We do not want to stop essential services," Delorme said when asked if the community would consider a full shutdown. 

"That's a tough conversation. There's many that agree to disagree on it.… There's just many questions that are constantly being assessed."

Delorme said the community has also implemented a program that uses colour-coded cards to indicate how people inside any given house are doing. 

Cards placed in the window of a house can indicate different messages. 

The colour-coded card system on Cowessess First Nation is being used to convey any potential emergency messages. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

A white card indicates people inside are OK. An orange card means utility-related help is needed, red indicates someone is sick, blue means there's a need for water, green means someone inside the home has died, while yellow means there's a need for food. Purple indicates a parent with children needs help.

Community members who have a phone have been given the contact information of local peacekeepers who are monitoring the community.

At a press conference last Sunday, Saskatchewan Minister of Government Relations Lori Carr was asked about the measures Indigenous communities had taken up to that point. She said she was unaware of such measures.

A request Wednesday afternoon for further comment from the province was not returned by deadline.

About the Author

Bryan Eneas

Reporter

Bryan Eneas is a journalist from the Penticton Indian Band currently based in Regina, Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC, he reported in central and northern Saskatchewan. Send news tips to Bryan.Eneas@cbc.ca.