Checkpoint at Piapot First Nation on May 13 | Darla Ponace photo

Funding gap threatens First Nations COVID-19 border patrols in south

Nations in the southern part of the province are waiting for a second round of funds to keep checkpoints in place

by Darla Ponace

Some First Nations in southern Saskatchewan are taking down their border checkpoints due to lack of funding, however that is not the case for the north. 

Chief Lynn Acoose of Zagime Anishinabek First Nations said the border checkpoints securing her community were coming down on May 13.

“(It’s) not because we don’t think it’s needed, it’s because we can’t afford to keep the checkpoints,” she said.

The First Nation used funding from the federal government’s Emergency Management Assistance Program to pay security staff at its border. The patrollers refuse entry to non-band members to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. 

“We were expecting a second package of assistance but haven’t received it yet and there is no word on when or how much is coming,” said Chief Acoose. 

Chief Lynn Acoose says Zagime Anishinabek First Nations can’t afford to staff checkpoints without additional funds.

Chief Acoose wants people to respect that they are still under a state of emergency and hopes band members and outside public would still practice self-isolation even after the border checkpoints come down. 

“The suspension of the border checkpoints does not mean that households are no longer required to self-isolate,” Chief Acoose said in an open letter to her membership on May 13.

“Please remain in isolation and practise the infection control measures recommended by the Medical Health Officer. Physical distancing and hand-washing are still our best defense against the virus.” 

Chief Jeremy Fourhorns of Piapot First Nation said he is facing the same issue in his community. 

Chief Fourhourns said checkpoints have been removed but will return as soon as the Nation obtains financial resources to restore them.

“It’s a waiting game,” he said, adding that although he knows funding is coming, no date or timeline was given. 

He believes that patrols played a significant role in helping keep Piapot infection-free so far. 

“It’s a challenge especially because Piapot is so close to Regina,” said Chief Fourhourns.

“We had roughly 150 vehicles coming in and out of our community every day, and we couldn’t force people to stay home, we weren’t in that type of situation.”

He hopes people will still be mindful about their health during the pandemic, and will continue to abide by infection control measures.

However First Nations in other parts of the province do not have the same issue. 

On Wednesday, Indigenous Services Canada announced $2.3 million in support of the ongoing effort to combat COVID-19 in northwestern Saskatchewan.

ISC was contacted for comment but did not provide clarification about when First Nations in southern Saskatchewan will receive additional funding. 

Venngage graphic By Darla Ponace

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