Indigenous leaders asking that access to Labrador be sealed off 

The elected leaders of the Innu of Labrador are requesting the closure of commercial airports, the ferry services, and travel from Quebec along the Trans-Labrador Highway into Labrador.

The Combined Councils of Labrador is also asking to stop non-essential travel between Labrador and Newfoundland.

The Indigenous nations believe limiting travel to essential services is one last step to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In a letter to Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Innu Nation says closing off Labrador is vital.

“The measures we are able to take as First Nation leaders to try and to protect our very vulnerable communities from Civic-19 are limited,” said Grand Chief Gregory Rich. “We have no way to limit travel into airports (other than the one in Natuashish), or into the province along the highway or on the ferries.”

The request is access to Labrador limited to essential workers, transport of essential goods and services such as medical supplies, food, and fuel.

The two Innu communities of the Innu Nation are Sheshatshiu and Natuashish. Both are located closer to the town Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

The Combined Councils of Labrador represents the communities of Nain, Makkovik, and Hopedale.

In spite of hand washing and staying home, protection against the virus is limited.

Many of the homes are overcrowded with elders and children living together, making self-isolation next to impossible.

Diabetes, addictions, limited medical staff increases the risk of the spread of COVID-19.

The Innu Nation said in the letter that they are not aware of any cases in their communities but are watching the numbers in other areas.

In Quebec, three Innu communities have confirmed cases. Uashat Mak Mani Utenam has three, Nutashkuan and Pessamit each have one.

The province of Quebec has been hit particularly hard with COVID-19. At the time of this posting, there have been 6,997 positive cases. Seventy-five people have died from the virus.

Newfoundland and Labrador confirmed cases continue to rise with 203 confirmed cases and one death. Six of those cases are in Labrador but official refuse to say which communities are involved.

The Combined Councils of Labrador president Chad Letto said in the letter to the Premier that travel between communities is only for essential services and more can be done to slow the spread of the virus.

“People feel that travelling back to the island or visit Labrador to visit family is not appropriate currently and if this does happen then self-isolate for 14 day,” said Letto.

Last week in a press conference, Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister John Haggie said he expects the cases of COVID-19 to rise.

“We are, from experience of our other jurisdictions, not yet into our likely surge period. This is likely to come of coming weeks,” said Haggie.

The Innu Nation said they are concerned some cases may already be in Labrador.

Dwight Ball said in a news conference Saturday that he is working with Indigenous leaders and it is important to consider what the impact would be in the whole community.

“What we’ve been asked to do is really shut down all travel into Labrador, but we must really be mindful that there are essential services that we do continue to supply Labrador,” said Ball.

Ball said it’s dealing with Covid-19 and the aftermath of not having services provided.

“Just segregating, cutting the province off from region to another can cause some other problems so we want what’s best and to stop spread but the fact is we have a solution, we have a tool for this, keep physical distancing stay six feet apart,” said Ball.

APTN spoke with Innu Nation Grand Chief Gregory Rich. He said they are asking for only essential travel to be allowed into the province, not to shut down entry into Labrador.

Rich was not sure if Premier Ball fully read the letter.

“We have not received an official response and hopefully they will take our letter seriously and read our letter, it’s all covered in there, that the premier raised,” said Rich.

Newfoundland an d Labrador is the only province in the Atlantic region that has not restricted entry to essential services.

Quebec announced Saturday that the province is restricting non-essential travel to two more areas: the region of Charlevoix and the city of Rouyn-Noranda.

Video Journalist / Halifax

Angel Moore is a proud Cree from the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba. Angel grew up in Winnipeg and has a Journalism degree from the University of King’s College. She also has a degree from Dalhousie University in International Development Studies and Environmental Sustainability. Angel joined APTN News in June 2018 as the correspondent in the Halifax bureau and covers Atlantic Canada.