A northern Saskatchewan First Nation dealing with a spate of COVID-19 cases in the area is threatening members who hold house parties with eviction and the loss of their utilities.
Chief Francis Iron of Canoe Lake Cree First Nation said the punishments are already spelled out in local housing policies, but that the band is underscoring them again to stave off parties that go over the current private gathering limit of five people.
“It’s tough and cruel, but, you know, we see elders getting sick and possibly passing away and then that’s something we go on to live with,” Iron said Monday. “We want to do everything that’s necessary to keep our community safe.”
Canoe Lake Cree First Nation is located about 333 kilometres northwest of Prince Albert and has just under 1,000 residents, according to the 2016 census.
Memo warns of stripping utilities
On Sunday, the First Nation’s housing director circulated a memo on social media in light of “the spike of COVID-19 cases in our community and surrounding communities” — 13 cases in total, according to Iron.
The memo went on to state that “there will be NO house parties allowed on the reserve. Anyone hosting a house party will be served with a warning of an eviction notice and utilities will be shut off.
“If it happens again, an immediate eviction notice will be served.”
Iron said that with winter setting in, “we don’t want the spread to go any further than it is.
“Learning from other First Nations and anywhere else, a lot of this originates from a house party where outbreaks are happening. We just want our people to be as serious as we are,” he said.
No one has had to be evicted or stripped of their utilities, Iron added.
“As of today and last night, there haven’t been any house parties, which shows us that the people are taking it very seriously,” he said.
‘They do have their own autonomy’
The Canoe Lake reserve is part of the Far North West region reported on by the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA). As of Sunday, the region had 66 active cases of COVID-19.
Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka, NITHA’s medical health officer for the Prince Albert area, said the “stern” measures outlined by the band has the support of his office.
“We do recognize they they do have their own autonomy and they have their own ability to develop local measures to enforce the public health order,” Ndubuka said.
Asked if evicting people might not create more problems, he said there are mental health teams, and alternate shelter arrangements, in place.
“I wouldn’t imagine that people who are struggling with addictions would be left isolated,” he said.