OHSWEKEN — In a unanimous decision, Six Nations of the Grand River has decided to build barricades at all entryways to the community, restricting access to non-band members in an effort to prevent community transmission of SARS-CoV-2.
Six Nations Elected Chief Mark Hill made the announcement on local radio station CKRZ-FM Friday afternoon.
“These restriction measures will reflect our direct action to protect the community by preventing the spread of the virus. There will be access points throughout the reserve for members and staff to enter and leave for essential travel,” said Chief Hill.
The council released a list of essential businesses in the community and is asking all non-essential businesses to close their doors to patrons immediately.
“The Six Nations community needs to understand the seriousness of COVID-19 right now, before it is too late,” said Chief Hill. “We cannot afford to wait for our first case to be discovered before we start to do something about it.”
Since the beginning of the outbreak, members of the Six Nations Emergency Control Group all echoed sentiments that the most vulnerable people in the community, Six Nations elders, are often traditional knowledge and language keepers. Thus, the move to step up blocking entryways to the reserve and restrict non-members is being called “Project: Protect our Elders”.
Construction on barricades at the community entryways will begin on March 30 with full implementation of the barricades expected by March 31.
Six Nations is just one of several different First Nations communities taking action to block access to non-band members entering their territories as a way to slow down community spread of COVID-19.
Indigenous communities across Canada, many who are already facing heightened risks in the coronavirus outbreak, are making similar decisions to close community borders to non-band members.
Pimicikamak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba and the Sayisi-Dene communities have both closed community borders to outsiders. BC’s Haida Gwaii Nation is discouraging all non-resident travel to their territory. In Ontario, the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek and Wahnapitae First Nations near Sudbury closed on March 25.
Saskatchewan’s Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations is calling for Premier Scott Moe to close provincial borders to help halt the spread of coronavirus.
Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald says she is in support of First Nations communities across Canada limiting access to their territories.
“First Nations are the most vulnerable communities in the country and prevention efforts and preparation must be stepped up now. The crisis we face is serious and I’ve asked more communities to have a “shelter-in-place” directive in their communities and to lock down to the fullest extent possible,” said Archibald.
Back on Six Nations community businesses are being asked to implement health and safety protocols including daily health screening of employees.
“The true strength of a community in the face of adversity is how we protect our elders and most vulnerable,” says Chief Hill. “With everybody’s health, safety and well—being in mind, we are confident in our decision to shut down the community given the increasingly dire impact of COVID-19 around the globe.”
In a statement SNGR said, “To be clear, the purpose is to restrict the flow of visitors from outside our territory and to decrease the potential of bring COVID-19 into our community. Community members will still have access, in and out of our community for essential services, including medical appointments, their employment and for food and water supplies.”
Six Nations Communications Officer told TRT via email, “We recognize that Six Nations of the Grand River band members consists of urban and on-reserve members. This will not affect their travel to the Territory. The premise of Project Protect Our Elders is to keep non-members from entering our community simply to protect our Elders, for example the gas-goers and smoke shop-goers that we have no control/knowledge of where they come from. This decision was made to protect the community and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
SNGR employees not from Six Nations will be able to attend work upon showing proper identification. Online shopping items and groceries will be allowed to be delivered to community homes.
“These restriction measures will reflect our direct action to protect the community by preventing the spread of the virus. There will be access points throughout the reserve for members and staff to enter and leave for essential travel,” said Chief Hill
“I am happy to report that due to our careful response to COVID-19 thus far, there are no known cases and we will continue to do everything in our power to keep it that way,” said Chief Hill. “This is the time to truly see each and every one on Six Nations as family, protecting family means taking these types of measures. It also means NOT spreading gossip, non-factual information and rumours or raising tensions from unreliable News Sources, there are NO CONFIRMED CASES of the COVID-19 virus in Six Nations.”
SNGR also went on the record to clear up misinformation circulating the community that some of Six Nations paramedics have contracted COVID-19.
“This is not true. Remain calm, patient, practice physical distancing within the community and most of all STAY HOME,” reads the statement.