The four First Nations of Maskwacis have declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chiefs with Samson and Ermineskin Cree Nations, Louis Bull Tribe and Montana Band held a news conference Tuesday to explain why they took the steps they did and to encourage all to work together.
Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback said declaring a state of emergency makes it easier to access and allocate funds to respond to the pandemic.
The response from the four First Nations will be about “everyone doing their part,” said Saddleback.
“This is not a time to panic. This is not about panic,” he said.
The chiefs called an urgent meeting last weekend and decided to exercise their treaty right to health under the Medicine Chest clause in Treaty 6. The declaration activates the Famine and Pestilence Clause of the treaty.
“We call upon the federal government to honour the terms of the treaty and provide immediate funding, resources, tools and supplies necessary, based on expressed needs,” the chiefs said in a statement.
Montana First Nation proxy Chief Bradley Rabbit said on Tuesday, “we all know it’s a very, very challenging time in the community.”
Rabbit said First Nations communities are particularly vulnerable because of overcrowding. Some three-bedroom homes have 12 to 15 people living in them, he said.
“If one person in that home ended up getting sick, the entire home is quarantined.”
A $305-million Indigenous community support fund announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is welcomed, but there are questions about how the money will be doled out equitably to all First Nations communities, he said.
Alberta Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Marlene Poitras urged all community members to do their part to avoid contracting and passing on the virus.
“There are so many unknowns about this. Please protect yourselves, because if it hits our communities, I’m afraid of the devastation that could occur,” said Poitras.
“The leaders are doing everything in their power to deal with governments, to deal with whoever they need to deal with to ensure that protocols and systems are in place so that we can protect the communities.”