Saskatoon

Blocked from your northern Sask. cabin? 'Be patient,' chief says

The chief of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan is asking southern residents to be patient as their access to northern cabins is blocked off during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cabin owner in province's northeast says travel restrictions are being applied too broadly

'It's strange, unprecedented times. We have to deal with it, to be patient. And I think that eventually we'll get through this,' said Chief Peter Beatty of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation. (Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation)

The chief of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan is asking southern residents to be patient as their access to northern cabins is blocked during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's strange, unprecedented times. We have to deal with it, to be patient. And I think that eventually we'll get through this," Chief Peter Beatty said.

Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation represents nine communities in the northeast part of the province. 

Beatty's comments came on Monday, only hours before health officials reported 34 combined new cases in the north and far north regions monitored by the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

Last week, as the number of northern outbreaks multiplied, the Saskatchewan government tightened travel restrictions for the sparsely populated but geographically immense Northern Saskatchewan Administrative District, covering nearly half the province.

The revised public health order banned people from travelling into the region for non-critical reasons and from travelling between communities — except for La Ronge and Stony Rapids — and except for groceries and medical appointments.

As a result, people from other parts of Saskatchewan who own cabins in the north can't access their retreats.

Nancy Loewen, from Prince Albert, is one of them.

The 71-year-old woman, her children and her grandchildren have a decades-old cabin at Little Bear Lake, which is at the southern end of the district affected by the restrictions.  

'It's definitely a place of many memories and wonderful family times together,' Nancy Loewen said of her cabin at Little Bear Lake in northeastern Saskatchewan. (Supplied by Nancy Loewen)

"It's a destination point," she said of the lake. "Nobody just drops in there. The next community further north is Deschambault Lake," which is about 140 kilometres away. 

Loewen said she was told by the RCMP that if she drove by a checkpoint just north of Smeaton, Sask. — at the head of Highway 106 leading to her lakeside getaway — she would be charged a fine of $2,000.

"Why shut down cabin owners anywhere that are not close to any of the communities?" she said.

Loewen complained to the Ministry of Health by email on Friday.

"I would like to express my anger at not being allowed to go to my cabin at Little Bear Lake due to a sweeping rule that covers all of Northern Saskatchewan," she wrote. "I can understand that you want to protect the northern communities, but more research should have been done  prior to making this general proclamation."  

Little Bear Lake is located about 140 kilometres southwest of a reserve at Deschaumbault Lake. (Supplied by Nancy Loewen)

Chief supports checkpoint

Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Beatty said he supports the Smeaton checkpoint and what the province is doing to protect against the spread of the virus elsewhere in the north.

"It would be a disaster if it hit one of our communities," Beatty said from his cabin in Deschaumbault Lake. 

The northeastern part of the province (where the reserves governed by the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation are located) has not been as affected by COVID-19 as areas further west, where outbreaks have been declared in La Loche, Lloydminster, Prince Albert and Beauval.

However, the first case of COVID-19 reported in the north was in the northeast, in the community of Southend, where a nurse tested positive for the virus in mid-March.

A taxi driver who drove the nurse later tested positive and went on a ventilator, and the driver's young son tested positive too, Beatty said. All three recovered from the virus, he added. 

"All the contacts were traced and everybody was quarantined, so we we were able to keep it down to the three [cases]," Beatty said.

Still, the tightened restrictions announced last week by the province are "something that will work in terms of slowing down the transmission of the disease to the northern areas," Beatty said.

Social conditions in the north, such as overcrowding, need to be kept in mind, Beatty said.

"If you're looking at 10, 15 people in one house where you self-isolate, I mean, where do you quarantine someone?"

Only a matter of time

"We all know that today's the date for [the first phase of] Re-open Saskatchewan," Beatty added, referring to the province's plan to gradually reopen the economy. "So I think it's only a matter of time until they can get to their cabins."

Beatty said he understood where Loewen is coming from. 

"I heard the same comments from other people, non-First Nations people or non community members that would like to come up here, check on their cabins. I know they pay taxes. All of this."

Beatty asked those people to be patient. 

"I know it's the weather is nice up here and everything, but, patience."

'I just want to go to my cabin'

Loewen was asked about the larger pandemic situation and the health risk associated with increased travel. She said she's done her part to contain the virus.

"I've stayed home. I have washed my hands. I have covered. I have social distanced," she said. 

"People in those communities need to do the same thing to protect themselves. I'm not going into their communities. I don't want to go into their communities. I just want to go to my cabin, which is isolated and away from people."

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

All-platform journalist for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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