‘Respect our wishes’: Mayor of Tuktoyaktuk pleads with people to stay away

Along the arctic ocean, at the end of the most northern permanent road in the country, the small isolated Inuvialuit community of Tuktoyaktuk (Tuk) braces for Covid-19.

Following an emergency meeting, the hamlet set up a check stop and began turning away outsiders in an effort to protect residents.

According to Mayor Erwin Elias, they’ve hired a few people to watch the check stop and ask any visitors travelling into Tuk what they plan to do in the community and if travel is non-essential to turn around.

“We put out the message to every surrounding community in our region to respect our wishes that we don’t want any visitors at this time unless it is an emergency,” said Elias.

“We also understand that people have essential needs that people need to complete before the spring. We can’t stop anyone. If they say no we have given no direction to continue further the conversation.”

Tuktoyaktuk is a three-hour commute north of Inuvik where there’s been one positive case of Covid-19.

It also the closest place to buy alcohol.

The hamlet is in the process of obtaining a temporary liquor prohibition.

Elias calls COVID-19 and restrictions on alcohol a life or death situation for his community.

Tuktoyaktuk is not the only community with a check stop.

Jean-Marie River in the Dehcho region and K’at’lodeech First Nation (KFN) in the South Slave region have also taken precautionary measures into their own hands.

KFN, 488 km southwest of Yellowknife near Hay River, went into lock down on Mar. 20, prior to any reported cases of COVID-19 in the N.W.T. and before the territorial government had announced a state of emergency.

Leadership there said the blockade has provided peace of mind and that they are working off their own Covid-19 community plans.

“It’s just knowing that our members are safe, especially our Elders. We had planned all of this stuff ahead of time. Right now it is KFN members only are allowed on this side, Can’t have anyone else in the vehicle with them, members only,” Chief April Martel said.

Across the north municipalities have demanded better communication and supports from the territorial government for protection against COVID-19.

Premier tells N.W.T. communities to dismantle check stops

Recently, the premier of the N.W.T. took over the role of controlling the government’s message and actions during the pandemic.

One of her first actions was to warn communities that any barriers that have been set up to control the flow of people entering their community to stop the spread of COVID-19 need to come down.

“We are stating clearly for all communities please don’t put up blockades, don’t do the check stops,” said Premier Caroline Cochrane.  “There’s many things you could be doing in your community to assist us. We are trying to work with our borders. I am worried about the risk when members are out there. I am worried about potential violence when people are out there on their own that do not have the authority to be there.”

The N.W.T. currently has five confirmed cases of COVD-19 and has already restricted access to the territory by non-essential workers and travelers.

Communities across the N.W.T. followed suit and put up check points of their own.

Video Journalist / Yellowknife

Charlotte joined APTN in January 2017 as a video journalist in Yellowknife, N.W.T.. Before coming to APTN she interned at CTV Lethbridge, earned her BA in feminist research from Western University and her obtained post-graduate in journalism at Humber College.