United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising call for COVID-19 response committee

As tensions rise on Manitoulin Island due to some checkpoints being put in place due to COVID-19, leaders with Mnidoo Mnising are calling for a response committee to be created to address outstanding issues.

Call to create committee after concerns raised about non-essential travel ban in M’Chigeeng First Nation

Chief and council of M'Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island issued a non-essential travel ban on April 25, which included checkpoints on Highway 540 and Highway 551. That angered drivers who use the provincial roads to travel to other parts of the island. (Erik White/CBC )

Indigenous leaders of First Nations on Manitoulin Island say they want to work with non-Indigenous leaders to calm tensions over travel restrictions they've put in place to protect their elders and vulnerable members from COVID-19.

Tensions have been rising since April 25, when M'Chigeeng First Nation Chief Linda Debassige and council restricted non-essential travel through their community to keep COVID-19 at bay. The restrictions involve Highway 540 and Highway 551 which both run through the First Nation.

Last week, the mayor of the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands, Al MacNevin, wrote a letter to the province's minister of transportation asking for intervention based on complaints from motorists having to detour.

The United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising represents a number of First Nation communities, including Aundeck Omni Kaning, M'Chigeeng, Sheguiandah, Sheshegwaning, Whitefish River and Zhiibaahaasing.

On Monday, tribal chair Patsy Corbiere announced the group has formally made the request to work with leaders from the Manitoulin Municipal Association. The proposed committee would mean Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders would work together.

"This is about coordinating a response as an island and preparing our communities for what COVID is bringing next," she said.

"We need to bring our Indigenous and non-Indigenous leadership to fight COVID-19 and to protect the health of our communities."

Corbiere says she's urging municipalities to "prioritize health of politics."

"As leaders, we are all responsible to put aside our political differences and to work collaboratively to come up with solutions that protect the people on the island," she said.

"There is no room for the divisive politics that are currently taking place."

'Not good right now'

Corbiere says the situation in M'Chigeeng is one reason why she wants the committee to be formed.

"It's not good right now," she said. "If we [work] collectively together, this issue will be resolved and we can come to some common ground on what we'll be doing in the future."

NDP Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha says he is in support of creating the committee.

"This will not get resolved through letter writing campaigns. This will not get resolved through social media," he said.

"This will get resolved through respect and dialogue."

Mantha says he will offer support in any way he can to help form the committee.