A state of emergency has been instituted on the four First Nations that make up Maskwacis.
The declaration was agreed to on March 22, but officially made public on March 24 when the chiefs from Samson Cree Nation, Ermineskin Cree Nation, Louis Bull Tribe and Montana Band held a press conference to talk about the move.
What makes the declaration unique is that the First Nations have activated the famine and pestilence clause in Treaty 6 — known as the ‘Medicine Chest’ clause.
“We have not seen a threat like COVID-19 in any of our lifetimes. Our people are no strangers to pestilence and hardship. Our people have survived, and we will continue to survive through this, but it will take the effort of all of us. Historically, our people were vulnerable to threats like COVID-19,” said Ermineskin Cree Nation Chief Craig Makinaw at the press conference.
“Today, we are still vulnerable. We need the tools to keep our people safe. We need the means to plank the curve and save lives. Make no mistake. This is what our common goal is today — to save lives. This is our Treaty right. We must be given adequate resources that were guaranteed.”
He added there are large families crammed into inadequate housing on Maskwacis and that an infection can spread quickly in that environment.
“I cannot understate the importance of practicing social distancing. Please stay home. Do not go visiting. Only go out for necessities. Keep yourself and your family safe by staying home. It will be difficult, but this is our new normal until the threat of COVID-19 has passed,” he said.
All four chiefs called on the federal government to uphold the treaties to help keep everyone safe. This includes a call for immediate funding and resources to sustain the health of the more than 18,000 people that make up the four First Nations.
“It is our collective responsibility to act and to keep our Nations safe. It is time to demonstrate strength,” Makinaw said.
Meanwhile, all four First Nations offices have either been closed or had their operational hours severely reduced until at least April 3. However, all essential services will continue in order to maintain their operations.
Aside from the issues surrounding the lack of proper medical treatment facilities to combat the virus and the need for financial assistance, the state of emergency will hopefully ensure an adequate supply of food and disinfectants.
At present, the Samson Cree Nation is facilitating the distribution of food and sanitation packages to its elders and most vulnerable people.
Food Package Deliveries tomorrow!!!Our first 100 Food packages will be delivered on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 at…
And that is where the province is stepping up with some assurances.
“Our priority is to ensure everyone is safe and to see what we can do to top up any programs available,” said Alberta’s Indigenous Affairs Minister Rick Wilson in a phone interview on March 25.
“I have been in constant contact with the four Maskwacis First Nations and interacting with them regarding the delivery of food, medicine, grants and community support services,” he said.
“Food is a huge concern, mainly due to people panic buying and hoarding supplies. There is no need to do that and we know that the supply chain is intact.”
Wilson added one big issue is that, while there are a tremendous amount of supplies to be shipped to Alberta, there are no back-hauls for the trucks. That means companies and drivers are losing money running empty trucks one-way.
“So, as a province, we are looking at coming up with some sort of relief to help companies deal with that,” said Wilson.
“Our First Nations communities are no different than any other community in Alberta. We encourage people to adhere to social distancing and any other health directives to slow the potential spread and affects.”
More information about the Maskwacis response is available by going to the Facebook page for each First Nation or their various social media channels.