For the second time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, a checkpoint has been erected at the entrance to the Hay River Reserve.
This time, the focus of the checkpoint — set up late last week — will be to keep out people driving vehicles with out-of-territory licence plates and those with high temperatures, which may indicate Covid-19.
“It’s just a safety precaution because, everywhere in the North, we don’t know who’s travelling in and out,” said Chief April Martel of K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN).
In particular, Martel noted that KFN doesn’t know who’s following self-isolation guidelines and who isn’t.
The reserve won’t be completely off limits except to KFN members and essential workers as it was from March 19 to May 15.
Instead, people driving vehicles with NWT licence plates will be allowed onto the reserve, if they do not have a high temperature, but just to go to Ehdah Cho Store and then leave.
“Our people are scared and they’re talking, and we need to do something,” said Martel. “Instead of closing the whole KFN, this is what we’re going to do, because we still need our store to be open.”
The KFN council voted on July 22 to set up the new checkpoint.
“Council’s decision was, wait a minute, we need to do something because there are too many people from Alberta coming to the reserve,” she said. “They’re trying to gas up at our store.”
A KFN safety official will have a contactless digital thermometer to check people for high temperatures before they are allowed to enter the Hay River Reserve
“They click you and, if your temperature isn’t right, between this and that, you have to leave,” said Martel. “We’re not messing around, basically because it’s scary right now.”
She noted there is particular concern because a case of Covid-19 was recently identified in High Level, Alta.
Prior to the checkpoint being set up, the chief and members of council often had to approach unknown visitors and ask them to leave the reserve.
One of the goals of the new checkpoint is to help protect the staff at Ehdah Cho Store, which is operated by KFN.
Martel said the staff members at the store have been watching for out-of-territory plates and turning the drivers away.
“But it’s getting too much,” she said. “Now they’re scared because there’s Covid in High Level.”
Martel said that the checkpoint is going to be manned during the day when Ehdeh Cho Store is open, while regular reserve security will monitor the community at night.
About a month ago, Martel raised concern about unknown visitors on the reserve and complained to Protect NWT.
However, she noted she has not yet received any response.
Mike Westwick, the manager of communications for Covid-19 response with the Department of Health and Social Services, said an investigation is ongoing.
“I want to assure everybody in the K’atlodeeche First Nation that we’re taking these complaints very, very seriously and we’re pursuing all the leads we have and collecting evidence,” he said. “We certainly understand that folks are feeling a certain amount of anxiety there. Our job is to go out there and take appropriate enforcement action, and we’re definitely doing that.”
Westwick declined to go into details about the investigation so as not to compromise it.
The South Slave region is a key point of entry into the NWT, he noted. “So we are highly active in the South Slave region and we are taking action to ensure that compliance is achieved.”