Ndilo Chief Ernest Betsina and Dettah Chief Ed Sangris of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation say they support a Dene Nation motion requesting the territorial government restrict alcohol and cannabis sales in the territory during the coronavirus pandemic.
On April 3, the Dene Nation submitted a four-point request to the GNWT – backed by all 27 Dene chiefs- asking for urgent help in restricting drug and liquor sales that can encourage public gatherings and increase the threat of spreading coronavirus across the North.
Caroline Wawzonek, minister of Finance, told reporters on Wednesday that the GNWT will not be closing liquor stores, but welcomed the opportunity to work with Indigenous governments to combat bootlegging and finding other enforcement solutions.
On Thursday the Yellowknives Dene chiefs said it is important to continue pushing for restrictions because they too see the problems access to liquor and cannabis is having on their communities.
“It is really a big concern to not only in our communities but across the territories,” Sangris said, adding that the close proximity of the Yellowknives Dene communities to liquor sales establishments in Yellowknife do pose a challenge, especially during the pandemic.
“That is one of the biggest contributors I think to spreading the Covid-19 and mass gatherings and partying. So we put a motion to the GNWT to at least reduce hours and reduce the amount of alcohol that is taken out of the liquor store.”
Both chiefs said two and a half days of discussion last week that led to the motion was fruitful for all involved.
“I am just hoping the GNWT will act on it,” Betsina said. “I know it is (approaching) two weeks and yet still no affirmative action and no direct action as of yet.
“I am certainly encouraged that something will be done to restrict at least the hours and the amount of alcohol that is being bought by individuals that do go to the liquor store.”
Both chiefs said they welcomed the the GNWT’s announcement on Wednesday to create an NWT compliance task force under the chief public health officer to ensure health and safety measures are followed – especially physical distancing. They hope that such enforcement will help with the partying and drinking that lead to public gatherings and the spread of covid-19.
“When the government put in the emergency measures, they had nothing to enforce it with,” Sangris said, noting that his community members had attempted to contact the GNWT after house parties were occurring.
“So they gave us a number to call the public health. We called these numbers and they never answered the phone calls. It (the voice message) just said the office opened Monday to Friday from nine to five. But we called during the day and evening with questions about why there is a house party.”
Betsina said the enforcement announcement will hopefully lead to complaints being taken more seriously.
“It is encouraging that the GNWT has hired enforcement and our concerns will be acted on much more quicker, I am hoping,” he said. “So we have to just see how things work out and I believe they are getting the boots on the ground and I am hoping this enforcement department can alleviate a lot of problems like mass gatherings, partying. “