Manitoba First Nations implement curfews during COVID-19

As Indigenous communities continue to close their borders to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic, some First Nations in Manitoba are having to take measures one step further by implementing community wide curfews.

As of Tuesday morning, Opaskwayask Cree Nation (OCN) is on a curfew for the next two weeks. The curfew runs from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily.

Onekanew or Chief Christian Sinclair took to social media to make a plea to members in an announcement posted on Facebook.

“Please play your part in respecting the lives of our community. We are doing this to protect the community in its entirety,” said Sinclair. “There are elders and many people with illnesses that could possibly suffer the hardest from…careless actions.”

The northern Manitoba community called a state of emergency last month.

Sinclair expressed concern about some members not taking physical distancing seriously enough.

“Stop having gatherings and house parties as we have heard there are people having gatherings on weekends still or late in the evenings,” Sinclair said during his video message.

He added there could be financial repercussions for those who do not abide by the rules. This can include withholding social assistance or a band members pay cheque. He said this would happen once the state of emergency has been lifted.

The community is relying on security and volunteers to keep track of people and vehicles leaving their homes during the curfew hours, according to a statement released by leadership.

“We understand these are frustrating times and can often feel lonely. We understand that as humans, we all do not like being told what to do,” the statement reads.

“What we ultimately want is for people to challenge their normal thinking and to do better, not only for the sake of today, but for the future of OCN.”

In southern Manitoba several First Nations have also implemented curfews.

Long Plain First Nation, located 100 km southwest of Winnipeg, started operating its curfew shortly after it declared a state of emergency last month.

“For the most part people are okay with it but we do have a small segment of the population, maybe five per cent still, that are having a difficult time excepting the curfew,” Chief Dennis Meeches told APTN News by phone.

Meeches has seen an uptick in crime relating to addictions including drug trafficking.

He said the part of the reason the curfew was set in place is to help restrict movement on drug dealers.

At the beginning of the month Manitoba First Nations Police Service arrested a woman in the community for possession of methamphetamine and counterfeit U.S. money amounting to $9,800.

Meeches said peace officers also had to escort a non band member off the community in a separate incident.

The community has been working with Dakota Ojibway Health Services to look at developing harm reduction centres to address some of these concerns.

“We just want to be proactive in how we’re dealing with this crisis. We want to work toward safe guarding the community and safe passage to our people, all people, as we go through this health crisis,” said Meeches.

Fisher River Cree Nation and Peguis First Nation also recently implemented curfews. Those started on Apr. 5.

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