First Nations across Ontario shut down to stop COVID-19

Reserves across the province are declaring states of emergency and closing up businesses in an effort to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.

Along with Six Nations of the Grand River’s State of Emergency Declaration earlier this month — the Haudenosaunee communities in southern Ontario and Quebec are also taking swift action to protect band members and residents.

The Mohawk Council of Kanesatake’s Emergency Preparedness Team issued a mandatory shut-down of all businesses in the community for an undetermined amount of time.

Kahnawake also shut down all businesses in it’s community. That reserve has one confirmed case.

Akwesasne has declared a state of emergency on March 16 along with it’s sister community the St.Regis Mohawk Tribe and are warning residents to cancel all non-essential travel.

Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte – Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory have ordered all restaurants closed and are permitting rent and mortgage deferrals for up to six months.

Oneida Nation of the Thames declared a state of emergency on March 20. Wahta Mohawk Territory declared a state of emergency on March 17. Both communities have shut down their administration buildings and are only running essential services.

Mississaugas of the Credit also took action this week — officially closing all community playgrounds and recreation facilities along with an earlier cancellation of all schools, childcare facilities and non-essential community services.

Two Row Times delivers to First Nations communities across the province. On his delivery route, Tim Reynolds, Distrubition Manager for TRT was shocked with the change in day-to-day life.

He spoke to police on Oneida and Chippewas of the Thames who shared their concerns about an already strained emergency response system. Staff at the local radio station, The Eagle 89.5, were discussing the community preparing for traditional cleansing cermonies that were about to be put through by longhouse medicine societies.

“The only things that were really open where the weed shops and there’s talk of completely shutting down the territory within a week,” said Reynolds.

Reserves further west were experiencing significant infrastructure interruptions. Munsee-Delaware’s Bingo Hall has been closed and Walpole’s ferry services were cancelled

“Aamjiwnaang was very quiet with a hand written sign up in the health office stating they were low on medical supplies. Kettle Point only had the gas station and some smoke shops open,” said Reynolds. “Moraviantown was like a ghost town or something out of the latter part of The Walking Dead. It was so quiet except for the gas stations and the weed shops off the main road that were busy.”

The Assembly of First Nations officially declared a state of emergency for all First Nations across Canada on March 24.

The declaration calls for increased resources and support for First Nations, and that funding be provided on a “needs and equity basis,” with specific consideration for northern, remote and isolated communities. The motion states that “First Nations leadership be fully and meaningfully involved at the decision-making tables in the development of all plans, legislation, policies, budget allocations and regulations regarding the COVID-19 pandemic federally and provincially.”  The motion also affirms AFN support for all First Nations that have already declared states of emergency, travel bans and other measures.

“The AFN is declaring a State of Emergency because First Nations need to be fully supported to meet all of the public health recommendations that this pandemic warrants,” said AFN National Chief Bellegarde. “First Nations are the most vulnerable communities in the country and prevention efforts and preparation for critical care must be stepped up now. While the federal funding announced recently is a start, it is inadequate to meet the anticipated needs. This is about the health and safety of First Nations families and communities. We need to act now.”

National Chief Bellegarde pointed out the unique circumstances First Nations face that require unique approaches noting, for example, that there are 96 remote fly-in First Nations across the country that are not easily accessible. These kinds of situations require increased supports and direct engagement with First Nations in planning and preparedness.

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