Letter: An open letter to the chief and council of M’Chigeeng from a band member

Please revisit the band council resolutions for border closure orders

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an open letter to the chief and council of M’Chigeeng First Nation and has been reprinted here at the author’s request.

An open letter to M’Chigeeng First Nation chief and council: 

I would like to present the following information in regards to the petition that has been circulating within our community. This information has been compiled based on consultation with many people here in M’Chigeeng First Nation (MFN). 

Enforcing a non-essential travel ban along with a border closure in our community will not stop the COVID-19 virus. There are essential service workers coming to MFN and essential service workers leaving MFN and coming back on a daily basis. Their jobs need to continue for us to function as a society. Any one of them could carry this virus. 

Community members in MFN are leaving the community every day for supplies and returning, not isolating for 14 days. There is no monitoring of this. There is no signage going out of the community, just coming in. We are somewhat self-sufficient, but not totally. There are supplies and services we do not have here that people are accessing. 

There are supplies coming to our community every day that are essential for our survival: food, clothing parcels, mail, equipment, supplies, etc. It can travel on these things just as easy as it can on someone. 

Just like a common cold and a flu virus, COVID-19 will inevitably reach our community. It’s how we deal with it and its spread here that will show in our preparedness. 

There are no confirmed active cases on Manitoulin Island, however we will never truly know this as COVID-19 can be carried asymptomatically and we should be treating everyone as they may be carrying the virus. 

Education training and preventative measures that stop its spread need to be implemented. How much education has been done one on one with elders to teach them how to protect themselves? We could be doing window visits and training with them as we drop off essential supplies like face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, groceries, etc. Teach them how to visit with their families through windows, social media and look at what is not being safely done in their homes and help them correct it. Have the health professionals demonstrate in a window setting how they can clean their groceries. Demonstrate the proper use of gloves and masks and how to prevent cross contamination. 

The above measures can and should be done with every household in the community. 

In other First Nation communities in Ontario the band did mandatory training in all public and private businesses on reserve to help them put in safety measures in these businesses to protect their workers, the public and the prevention of spread of this virus. 

We need to be cleaning surfaces in all places with public access several times a day, door knobs, handrails, parcels, mail, groceries we take into our homes and workplaces. 

What orders have been put in place with regards to our essential workers and family members that work in our elders’ homes and group residences. This is how this virus could potentially affect our most vulnerable people. These workers go home to their families at night. Some of them have kids. These kids are getting together, having friends over. There is little to no appropriate practices in place. This virus can be in our elders’ homes so easily without measures in place. 

Our people feel the community is safe because of the road closure. They have let down their guard and are not practicing good social distancing and personal hygiene measures that will keep them safe. You cannot put people in a bubble behind a barricade and expect them to learn how to protect themselves properly. It is producing a false sense of security. 

I have had elderly people into my store to get things they need from every community, including First Nation communities like Wiikwemkoong and Sheshegwaning. Most come in with no gloves, no masks, no social distancing. They need tubes, tire repairs, parts for their chainsaws to cut wood, they need essential services open and accessible. 

Some elders do not want a blockade on our community in any way shape or form. Since they went up they are defying suggestions to stay home and are standing up for their right to live freely. This action at a time when they need to stay home to prevent COVID-19 spread. 

Some people who have this virus can be asymptomatic (no signs or symptoms) and don’t know they have it, don’t know they are spreading it, including children. 

People’s independent actions are what will go a long way to helping contain this virus. 

Up until the 1960s we had Indian Agents in our communities that gave passes to our people who qualified to leave. We fought for change, we fought for equality with the rest of Canada. We fought for reconciliation and we still have a long way to go. Then we turn around and try to fight a virus by doing the same thing to our own people. This creates increased trauma and can either produce or increase the risk of PTSD in our elders and community members. 

There are levels of activation in pandemic planning and some of these steps, many involve closing side streets when there is a community spread outbreak in a region. We are at a very low level and with the number of cases we have (none at this point). It is hard to justify having to close a major thoroughfare, that is the primary access for all residents west of M’Chigeeng. 

When will this end? Contact tracing can limit its spread, but it has gone to community spread in places like Sudbury. A vaccine is at least 12 to 18 months out, and then it has to be distributed world-wide. It’s a scary thought but we are not here today. 

Other considerations to look at that make a different approach favourable are below. 

The following occurred during the first three days of doing the checkpoint closures: On the day of implementation of the checkpoints there was a failure to stop M’Chigeeng members of our community from leaving and going to Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Espanola, where they could have contracted the virus. This immediately made the checkpoints ineffective and the border closure band council resolution null and void as it violated the decision of council to keep members in. This error could have had legal repercussions as the closure was to go both ways; There was no consistent messaging to the people arriving at the checkpoints. There was largely no COVID-19 messaging and education; There were racial comments made by people at the checkpoint representing M’Chigeeng First Nation; There were two women assigned at one time at one checkpoint creating very serious safety concerns. A male should have been assigned with a female for safety; Some of the checkpoints were manned by one person which happened a day or two into the border closure implementation; The checkpoint staff were not consistent in wearing PPE or abiding by COVID-19 safety protocols; The lead councillor was allegedly making discriminatory posts on social media changing the reason why M’Chigeeng implemented this in the first place; and COVID-19 messaging got lost and a lot of checkpoint volunteers were uneducated with the COVID-19 protocols and messaging; The checkpoint turned racial very quickly; Ontario is now opening up the economy creating greater challenges and safety issues for checkpoint people; There are threats earlier this week on Facebook that say they weren’t going to let little girls tell them what they can or can’t do and that they were going to run through checkpoints anyway; There were many vehicles who went through the checkpoints without stopping creating safety issues for those working. Some of the checkpoints were manned by one woman; Since the checkpoints went up more and more people are going out just to prove a point; The checkpoints didn’t turn around MFN people leaving, creating discriminatory action; Checkpoint workers were brought in from out of town without being screened or isolating for 14 days; Checkpoint workers were seen shopping in other communities; The checkpoint staff have been unprofessional and portraying a very negative image since the start on Saturday. 

Please consider making an attempt to revisit your actions that put the band council resolutions for the border closure orders in place and establishing a task force of people from this community that can help the community combat this virus effectively. There are many ready, willing and able to help. 

Sincerely, 

Lisa Corbiere-Addison

M’Chigeeng band member