Traditional ceremonies should be exempt from pandemic lockdown rules says Treaty 6 confederacy

The liaison for the Confederacy of Treaty 6 says ceremonies should be exempt from Saskatchewan’s pandemic lockdown laws because it makes up an important part of the health of the people.

“I’m tired of sneaking around to every sweat lodge where people are afraid of getting fined,” says Andre Bear.

In a post on Facebook, Bear wrote tat it’s important for people to be able to continue going to ceremonies.

“Traditional First Nations ceremonies should be exempt from public health orders regarding covid,” he wrote.

Bear says ceremonies aren’t just important, they’re part of Indigenous health care.

“The issue at hand is something that is important to Indigenous people across Canada so I think it’s really important to share the message that our traditional Health care system needs to be deemed an essential service by the government,” Bear says. “Not only the federal but the provincial governments.

“And hopefully our chiefs and councils as well.”

As of Dec. 22, Saskatchewan has 3,990 active cases of COVID-19. Another 122 people have died from the virus.

Currently the province has limited indoor public gatherings and worship gatherings to 30 people.

Apart from provincial rules, First Nation communities have their own lockdown restrictions.

Bear says people should be able to practice their ceremonies without fear of breaking COVID-19 restriction rules.

“To me it makes no sense as to why today we need to hide to practice, our ceremonies,” he says. “Because I know stories I am actually one of those people who had to hide  inside of a trunk to get to a sweat lodge.”

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APTN News coverage of COVID-19

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) is encouraging people to maintain social distancing as much as possible if they go to ceremonies.

“Indigenous Services Canada recognizes the importance and sacred nature of cultural ceremonies,” said a statement from ISC. “In light of the risk to health and safety of COVID-19, First Nations leaders and ceremonial organizers are encouraged to consider public health guidelines in their respective provinces and territories before they proceed.”

Bear says the right to hold ceremonies already exists.

“The highest law in Canada is the Constitution and our rights are already recognized and affirmed under section 35,” he said. “And if one of our rights happens to be our ceremonies  to me it makes no sense as to why today we need to hide to practice our ceremonies.

“If I get fined for going to get healing for my own traditional healthcare system that’s not ok and that’s something that in Canada today as soon possible we need to change.”

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