Indigenous

Alberta dropping COVID-19 restrictions too early, say chiefs

Two First Nations chiefs in Alberta say the province is removing pandemic restrictions too early, as they worry about the health and safety of their members.

Ermineskin Cree Nation chief worried about a surge in cases

Ermineskin Cree Nation Chief Randy Ermineskin says the First Nation will proceed with caution and monitor case counts in the coming weeks. (Submitted by Ermineskin Cree Nation)

Two First Nations chiefs in Alberta say the province is removing pandemic restrictions too early, as they worry about the health and safety of their members.

As of Tuesday at midnight, people in Alberta are no longer required to show proof of vaccination to eat in a restaurant or attend entertainment venues and capacity limits were lifted on venues with a capacity of less than 500.

Starting Monday, children under 12 will be exempt from all masking requirements and in schools, masking requirements will be lifted for students of all ages.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said at a news conference Tuesday that "now is the time to begin learning to live with COVID."

"It is clear that we passed the peak of our current infections about three weeks ago and are now seeing the result as COVID-related hospital admissions are declining," Kenney said.

Randy Ermineskin, chief of Ermineskin Cree Nation which is one of four nations that are part of the community of Maskwacis, about 75 kilometres south of Edmonton, said the First Nation is still trying to keep COVID-19 from spreading.

"I know the reports said that in the major centres they've got control of it, but the First Nations are kind of next in line to see a surge," he said.

The band's administration is working three days a week and he said they will be closely monitoring their situation in the days and weeks ahead.

"We want to assert our own sovereignty and say we understand where they make decisions, but we have to look after our own people and our own health and well-being," said Ermineskin. 

On Feb. 10, Maskwacis Health Services said there were nine people in hospital due to COVID-19 and 318 active cases. The community has had 4,226 total cases and 24 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

In Frog Lake First Nation, about 200 kilometres east of Edmonton, the community is currently on a "circuit breaker" to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the school has been closed for over a month.

Chief Greg Desjarlais said the decision to remove restrictions in Alberta was premature and that the band's school will continue to follow COVID-19 protocols when it reopens.

"We take temperatures, we take the names, we have bus monitors, we clean our buses, so we do take precaution, even though many 12 and under aren't vaccinated," said Desjarlais.

Frog Lake reported on Feb. 10 there were two new cases, 40 active cases and no current hospitalizations.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1

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