Checkpoints have been set up at entrances to the Hay River Reserve to limit access because of fears of the coronavirus/COVID-19.
Only members of K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN), including band members living in Hay River or elsewhere, and essential services personnel are permitted onto the reserve.
“No one else is allowed in,” said Chief April Martel.
KFN erected the checkpoints on March 19.
There is a checkpoint on the KFN side of the ice crossing between Hay River and the reserve’s New Village, along with another at the beginning of the reserve access road on Highway 5. The ice crossing to the reserve’s Old Village has been closed.
KFN is trying to protect its members from coronavirus/COVID-19, especially elders.
“We have a lot of elders in KFN on the reserve,” said Martel. “So we’ve got to be very careful in what we’re doing and who’s going where.”
The checkpoints are part of a state of emergency declared by KFN on March 18 because of the COVID-19 global pandemic. COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
As of March 19, there were no cases of COVID-19 in the NWT.
“People are scared,” said Martel. “People are scared of this pandemic.”
The chief noted the checkpoints will be manned seven days a week from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Outside of those hours, the reserve will be patrolled as usual by KFN’s security officers.
Sixteen people have been hired to man the checkpoints.
The essential services that will be allowed onto the reserve will include emergency responders, taxis for medical trips, food delivery trucks and employees of Taylor & Co., Stittco Utilities, Bassett Petroleum, Patterson’s Sawmill and NorthwesTel.
Martel noted that KFN members living in Hay River most often visit the reserve to go to the Ehdah Cho Store or to see family members.
“But they understand that this is very serious and, at that checkpoints, we tell them, ‘Can you please make it very minimal when you come here,'” she said.
KFN held a meeting with elders on March 16 to discuss the coronavirus and COVID-19.
Martel said the elders were advised how important it is for them to stay at home.
The elders were provided with a three-month supply of any medications they might require, plus the band will do shopping for them.
If elders have their own vehicles and visit Hay River, they were advised not to give anyone rides and to wash their hands.
Martel said she does not have data on how many visitors might be affected by the new restrictions.
“I’m not really worried about financial and all that stuff right now,” she said. “That’s the last thing on myself and council’s mind right now. We’re not thinking about money. We’re just thinking about the protection for the people.”
Martel also noted that KFN members returning to the reserve after travelling in places like Alberta are being advised to go home straight home and self-isolate for 14 days.
“So we’re really pushing for that,” she said, adding anyone in self-isolation will receive care packages from the band.
While Ehdah Cho Store remains open, most other things on the reserve are closed, including Chief Sunrise Education Centre, the daycare and the youth centre.
The KFN band office is also closed, with only the chief and CEO there as essential employees.
Martel noted that Ehdah Cho Store is operating from noon to 5 p.m. under strict conditions.
“They’re only allowing five people in the store at a time,” she explained, adding that, once the customers leave, the store is sterilized and five other people are allowed inside. “And they keep doing that over and over.”
Martel said one of the reasons for the limited access to the reserve and the reduced hours of Ehdah Cho Store is to preserve the food supply at the store.
“We do have a backup food supply, as well, in the background locked up, because we don’t want to run out of food for our people if anything ever happens, knock on wood,” she said.
Martel said it is unknown how long the checkpoints will remain in place.