Members of a First Nation in northern Manitoba say their chief hosted a house party two days after cracking down on social gatherings.
“…It’s so upsetting to hear that our chief is partying when he should be in self-quarantine,” said band Coun. Yvonne Ballantyne on Facebook.
“How do we get people to listen and believe the information that is given to them?”
Chief Harold Turner of Misipawistik Cree Nation didn’t return calls from APTN News seeking comment about the April 4 get-together, which attracted a visit from the community’s safety patrol.
In the warning letter to the community Turner signed on April 2, he outlined the dangers of infectious COVID-19 and implored people to stay home.
“The situation is very serious and in order to prevent the spread of this virus from happening in our community it is important that you quit allowing people who do not live in your house to visit and to come over,” the letter said in part.
“Also please know that these houses are the property of the Misipawistik Cree Nation. The RCMP have been contacted and have the authority to enter your home at any time. If you are found to be dealing drugs, you will be evicted immediately.”
The community safety patrol pinned the letter to the chief’s door the morning after the party, according to a member of the community.
(A copy of the letter warning band members not to have social gatherings. Submitted.)
Something a spokesperson for the RCMP, which polices the community also known as Grand Rapids, confirmed.
“The RCMP were aware that First Nation Safety Officers were attending the residence,” said Cpl. Julie Courchaine from RCMP D Division in Winnipeg, about 430 km southeast of Grand Rapids.
This gave people more to talk about on Facebook, which upset the chief, who lashed out but later deleted his comments. Some of his posts were saved and shared with APTN, along with a photo.
Ballantyne, who apologized to band members for venting “my frustrations” on Facebook, didn’t respond to APTN’s request for further comment.
She assured the community “a lot of planning and preparing” had been done for when COVID-19 does hit the small, rural First Nation, which doesn’t have a hospital or doctor on site.
But until then she said it was important for everyone to stay united and follow the rules.
Misipawistik, like most of the 634 First Nations in Canada, erected checkpoints with security guards to monitor traffic to protect itself from the potentially deadly virus that has killed thousands around the globe.
(Most First Nations in Canada have established checkpoints and curfews to keep the virus at bay. APTN file)
So far, no positive case has been detected on any of Manitoba’s 63 First Nations.
Partying during the pandemic is also an issue in nearby Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN), which means an eviction notice to be served once the local state of emergency is lifted.
“Having large gatherings and house parties will put everyone and their loved ones at a greater risk for COVID-19,” said a unanimous band resolution.
“We have been very fortunate to have less than a handful of cases in northern Manitoba to date, this is why preventative measures such as this eviction notice are important when it comes to helping in the worldwide fight to ‘flatten the curve.’”
Still, being a party pooper isn’t easy for any leader during the pandemic, said Kluane Adamek, the Yukon regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations who holds the health portfolio for the national advocacy organization.
“This is certainly not an easy time,” she said in a telephone interview.
“Our communities need to be healthy and safe, and we need to be accountable to each other. As our elders say, leadership is more than a title.”
It is also a time to “be gentle” with one another, rely on collective knowledge, and for chiefs to consider what kind of leader they want to be, Adamek added.
“Blaming won’t propel people to change. No one person can do this alone. We don’t want anyone to be left behind.”