The K’atl’odeeche First Nation near Hay River, N.W.T, has declared a state of emergency until further notice in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Anyone entering the First Nation, either by the all-season road or the ice road, will have to show a security guard proof of band membership. The public will be turned away until leadership decides the lockdown is over.
Supply trucks carrying groceries and other supplies will still be allowed in the First Nation, a notice from the First Nation said.
Chief April Martel said the First Nation council decided to lock down the community after talking it over with their elders.
“If that sickness ever happens, it’s going to make them really sick,” Martel said. “It’s scary. All our people are scared right now, they’re panicking scared — and I’ve never seen that in my life.”
Originally, the First Nation did not want to go into a full lockdown, but after a meeting earlier this week with elders and band management, Martel and the councillors made the call.
The First Nation can declare a state of emergency at any time without clearance from other levels of government, including the territory, Martel said.
But all in all, she said, all levels of government in the territory have the same goal.
“We’re all trying to protect our people,” she said. “But I really wanted to lock this reserve down because I don’t want any sickness coming in here at all.”
Now, the First Nation has asked people to go on the land to create a stockpile of traditional foods of dried meat, fish and traditional medicines. The First Nation already has a small pile ready to go, but Martel said more orders are being placed.
“In case the virus hits, we want to be prepared,” Martel said. “The virus is not here but [when] it is … that’s when we really need to start supplying house to house.”
Staff members are also going door to door to deliver food and medication to elders that are in self-isolation to make sure they have everything they need, Martel said.
Martel said the lockdown will get even more strict if there is a confirmed case anywhere close to the town of Hay River or on the reserve.
So far, Martel said none of the elders have been tested for coronavirus. Staff will have to call public health to get testing done for any people on the reserve.
The reserve has also reduced their convenience store hours and are only letting in five people at a time.
Martel said she met with premier Caroline Cochrane, the N.W.T.’s representative for the Assembly of First Nations, and other Indigenous leaders via teleconference today to talk about some of the funding options that First Nations can access to get through COVID-19.
So far, Martel said they have not evaluated how expensive the blockade will be for their government.
Band member Amos Cardinal said he is “worried in many ways” about his community and is glad council is acting quickly.
“It’s not … if it’s going to happen — it’s inevitable,” Cardinal said. “When it happens, we can be much more prepared.”
Martel said she hopes other First Nations will follow their lead.
As of Friday morning, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the N.W.T.