Wiikwemkoong has protocols in place to minimize community access

Heat Security’s Noah Peltier, left, and Evanson Peltier, right, flank Wikwemikong Tribal Police Service Constable Taylor Peltier at Wiikwemkoong’s border checkpoint. photo by Warren Schlote

WIIKWEMKOONG – Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, Manitoulin’s largest community, is in its first week of living under a travel order and the community has come together to make its new reality work to help keep its citizens safe, says Ogimaa Duke Peltier.

Last Monday, April 6 Wiikwemkoong chief and council declared a state of emergency for its territory which also included a travel order, restricting all non-essential travel by Wiikwemkoong residents and those coming into the territory. The travel order went into effect on Thursday, April 9 at 8 am.

“The traffic has virtually stopped,” Ogimaa Peltier told The Expositor in a Monday interview, noting that the border checkpoint that was installed at the end of March saw a spike in traffic prior to the travel order as community members stocked up on supplies, which was anticipated, he added.

Essential workers working outside of Wiikwemkoong as well as those working in the community can enter, as can residents who need to travel for medical appointments or for medical emergencies.

When asked if there were any concerns regarding Wiikwemkoong’s supply chain, the ogimaa explained that it is business as usual for the Mnis IDA located in the mini mall and for those residents who use either the Manitowaning or Little Current Guardian pharmacies, which are supplying daily deliveries to the Wiikwemkoong Health Centre. Drivers then deliver prescriptions directly to residents’ doorsteps.

Andy’s has also been granted large grocery store status, Ogimaa Peltier explained. Prior to that Andy’s was deemed small and not prioritized in terms of shipping. “Now, there is no guesswork,” Ogimaa Peltier said. “Whatever they order is now delivered. There was partly an assumption there that there are other grocery stores within a five-mile radius.”

For those living with alcohol dependency issues, special arrangements have been made to ensure that no one becomes ill from withdrawal which would in turn create an unnecessary burden on the Island’s health system. For those with substance use disorder, Wiikwemkoong’s Sunrise Clinic is also open for business.

The ogimaa said most people are complying with the order.

“By us limiting our travel to within the community, if they are dealing with cabin fever and need to get out for a ride, we’re fortunate to have a lot of roads,” the chief continued, adding that he hopes those odd trips are few and far between. “We are asking people to stay home.”

Chief and council also reached out to neighbours Assiginack Township to see if the border could be temporarily moved from Buzwah to Highway 6 and Meredith Street in Manitowaning in the interest of keeping some economy flowing between the two communities.

Assiginack council discussed Wiikwemkoong’s ask at its first virtual meeting on April 7. It was noted that this move would require Assiginack to place barricades at three of its streets. Mayor and council agreed that an answer would have to come from the province, which so far is saying very little in response.

“I think the current situation helps them, but moving the checkpoint would affect Manitowaning,” said Councillor Christianna Jones. “I would hesitate to do something.”

“I think we have to wait and see what happens at Queen’s Park and also the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP),” said Mayor Dave Ham.

“I am also concerned we have no right to put up construction barricades,” CAO Alton Hobbs added. “I never really like breaking the law. We’ve had silence from the OPP, solicitor general and Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, which to me shows that they’re still trying to figure out what to do.”

Ogimaa Peltier said he remains hopeful that Assiginack and the province “see an opportunity for the communities to work together to protect their citizens and allow for some economic activity,” noting that the area is already “economically depressed.”

“We’re just waiting for them,” Ogimaa Peltier said, “if (Assiginack) council decides to work with us.”

Both Zhiibaahaasing and Sheshegwaning have also enacted travel orders. In Sheshegwaning First Nation, only a handful of community members (as approved by the chief) are able to leave the community for pharmacy and grocery store runs while Zhiibaahaasing First Nation is seeing supplies shipped directly to the community, allowing for all unnecessary travel to cease.