A vehicle turns off Highway 5 onto the Hay River Reserve, where the access road is no longer blocked by a checkpoint because of the Covid-19 crisis. K’atlodeeche First Nation had erected checkpoints on March 19 at the highway access and on the ice crossing.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

The remaining checkpoint limiting access to the Hay River Reserve because of the Covid-19 crisis has been removed.

Debbie Miller, the chief executive officer of K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN), said the checkpoint was removed on May 15.

“We received the Emerging Wisely report from the GNWT and we began to initiate our own moving forward processes,” said Miller of the plan to ease restrictions because of the Covid-19 crisis. “The document is stating very clearly that it’s time for everybody to look at how much economic loss are we all having and how is it that we can move forward to lessen some of the economic hardships that not only K’atlodeeche is feeling but certainly the other businesses around us.”

The economic impact is being felt at Ehdah Cho Store, a grocery and gas bar operated by KFN.

“So we have continued to limit the numbers of individuals within the store, but now we are open for off-reserve general public business, which prior to May 15 we were not,” said Miller. “We are trying to be honest with that and lessen the hardship that was created by our checkpoint.”

It was set up on March 19 at the Highway 5 entrance to the reserve’s access road. Another checkpoint was set up at the ice crossing between Hay River and the New Village on the reserve, but that was no longer required after spring breakup began. The ice crossing to the reserve’s Old Village was closed during the travel restrictions.

Miller was asked if there has been any noticeable change in the number of people coming to the reserve since the removal of the checkpoint.

“There’s a small uptick from individuals who are travelling about and coming in the past week to utilize the purchasing of gas and the grocery store,” she said on May 22. “It’s not a huge and significant increase, no, but I will say I think a whole lot of that has to do with communities still staying in place.”

Miller believes the checkpoints served their purpose while they were in place, noting they were designed to limit contact with the reserve.

“We have significant numbers of individuals here who are considered vulnerable high-risk, and I would rather be known as the person who closed the community and we had no cases than to be the individual who did not close the community and there were cases of Covid,” she said. “That would be pretty sad to have any potential health-associated issues and/or the potential loss of life of some of these individuals.”

The reserve is not open as usual for visitors.

“So even though our checkpoint is down, we’re still expecting individuals to not come and visit with families and such,” said Miller. “There’s still those kinds of expectations. So you come in, you come to the store, you do your business and you leave.”

Plus, visitors will be expected to wear facemasks.

When the checkpoints were in place, only members of KFN, including band members living in Hay River or elsewhere, and essential services personnel, were permitted onto the reserve.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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