Indigeneous leaders decry officer’s “free interpretation” of northern travel ban
- | May 16, 2020
First Nations and Metis leaders say the province’s security check points in the north have “gone too far” in their interpretation of the public health order limiting travel to stop the spread of COVID-19.
A letter to Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, said Northern Chiefs were making complaints against security officers for unfair and disrespectful treatment, according to a joint statement issued May 12 by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIIN), the Metis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) and the Meadow Lake Tribal Council.
“It disturbs me that the North is being discriminated against and treated unfairly,” Chief Francis Iron of Canoe Lake Cree First Nation (CLCFN) said in the news release.
“These officers (at the check points) have free interpretation of the Public Health Order and a complete lack of respect towards the leadership of the North,” he said
Iron said he was denied passage south to Flying Dust First Nation near Meadow Lake when he tried to get to a primary cheque signer who lives at Flying Dust to authorize social assistance and payroll cheques.
“These officers also have no regard of what an essential service for northerners is,” Iron said.
Travel from the region is permitted for “Employees of, and persons delivering, critical public services and allowable business services,” according to the April 30th public health order limiting travel to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the Northern Administration District, which has seen the largest outbreak in the province.
“Chief Iron is not the only one who received ignorant and aggressive treatment from Saskatchewan Conservation Officers at these check points in the north,” the release states.
“I have witnessed it firsthand,” said English River First Nation Chief Jerry Bernard.
“This public health order is also restricting essential services to our community. We strongly believe that shopping for groceries in Meadow Lake is essential for our communities because there are shortages of goods and services all over the North and we are being forced into positions that make our communities even more vulnerable,” Bernard said.
Officers have threatened to charge community members if they bring groceries back with them when returning from essential trips, he said.
“This ignorant, disrespectful and threatening treatment must stop immediately,” Bernard said in the news release.
Chief Bobby Cameron of FSIN urged all levels of government to work together and, “implement our recommendations as we see fit.”
“We support the northern communities and the leadership on their recommendations to stop the spread of COVID-19. We have positive solutions that will help the whole province and flatten the curve.”
The public health order also states, “Persons may travel to the community closest to their community of primary residence, taking the most direct route, to obtain essential goods and services when those goods are not available in their community of primary residence.”
The order does not recognize that Northern stores in the isolated communities do not meet all the requirements for all of their citizens, the leaders said.
“Our community needs include specialized diets, baby and infant foods and essentials, dry goods, and home supplies that are difficult to shop for North of Meadow Lake,” said Chief Richard Ben of the Meadow Lake Tribal Council.
“Our Chiefs support some sections of this Public Health Order, but other sections are causing real concerns and problems for our First Nations.
“We all want to keep this pandemic out of our communities, but we all have to remember that we are in this together. Our North is suffering, and we will not tolerate disrespect and threats against northerners at these check stops,” Ben said.
MN-S President Glenn McCallum pointed out that Metis leaders worked with First Nations and municipal leaders to establish security checkpoints in the northwest.
“The Provincial involvement came later and the officers that have taken over the checkpoints are not taking our citizens and their unique circumstances living in an isolated place into consideration.
“The cooperation among our leaders and community will continue and governments should be working in partnership. The public health order must continue to provide the appropriate information to citizens in a respectful manner,” McCallum said.