(FORT MCMURRAY, AB – April 26, 2021) – The eleven First Nation and Métis Nations of the RMWB are calling upon the province of Alberta to immediately change their approach to COVID-19.
“For almost thirteen months we have followed the leadership of Jason Kenney, and where has it gotten us?” asks Chief Adam. “To last place in the country when it comes to the rate of spread. More than double the worst outbreak in Ontario and tied, if you can believe it, with Delhi, India. Whatever Alberta has been doing so far has been a failure,” states Adam.
The eleven RMWB Indigenous communities are calling for a new approach in the wake of record-setting outbreaks in the region, which recently claimed the life of a respected Métis elder who was denied treatment at Northern Lights Regional Health Centre twice in the week before he died.
“These losses are too great to bear, and something has to be done,” said President Kendrick Cardinal of the Fort Chipewyan Métis. “We cannot stand by and continue to watch these numbers surge, we must challenge the Provincial government to address our concerns now. We refuse to bury another Indigenous member of our communities.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Indigenous communities of the RMWB have had to take measures into their own hands by setting up checkpoints or implementing curfews in order to protect their communities. The restrictions that the province has enacted are ineffective and show in rapidly growing case counts.
“We are at a crossroads as a society, if we look to our Indigenous communities in Wood Buffalo, we have done extensive work to protect our people. All levels of government need to take a hard look at our region and our communities as an example of best practices. Our biggest barrier today is the roll-out of the vaccines to the greater population and all age groups, while implementing temporary restrictions in the region until we can get our case numbers to a manageable point,” said Ron Quintal, President of the McKay Métis Nation.
“We have a Premier who is prioritizing profits over lives by continuing to allow infected workers to come to our region from all over the country to keep oil flowing,” said Chief Adam. “If this were any other region, the numbers would dictate that we would be shut down. If it were any other industry, the province would have put in increased regulations just like they did with the meat packers, or schools, or the NHL. But no, Premier Kenney is willing to bet the lives of your family and mine, all so the oil fat cats can continue to get big dividend payments.”
The Premier’s nonchalant attitude to illness and death is mirrored in the comments of local UCP MLA Tany Yao, who rose in the legislature on April 22, 2021, to say that “we should accept that death happens, and that people have to take self-responsibility.”
When elected officials believe this is appropriate commentary during a regional crisis, it becomes clear that they no longer can be entrusted to make the very life-and-death decisions that are required to protect the health and safety of the Indigenous people of the region.
“We have had over a year to prepare for this, and right from the start the Indigenous communities have been warning of precisely this scenario,” said Chief Adam. “The Province’s plan has failed pure and simple. What’s worse is Premier Kenney has denied that he is a failure and has gone as far as to blame Indigenous people for the increased spread in the RMWB at an April 26th press conference.”
Says Adam: “That is a lie, plain and simple. If that were true, you would have massive outbreaks in the rural hamlets and smooth sailing in the urban area. Look at the numbers, that’s just not the case. And the reason for that is because the Indigenous communities took measures into our own hands to protect our people. Kenney could have done the same, but even after a year, has chosen not to. And who does that hurt? The residents of the RMWB.”
In the desperate hope that Premier Kenney will listen to reason, the Indigenous communities of the RMWB have forwarded a letter including these recommendations and requests:
- Declare a stay-at-home order, with essential movement outside the home only.
- Establish isolation units in local hotels for people to be able to quarantine in safety and comfort.
- Establish a mass vaccination program for everyone over 18 to stop the spread.
- Establish and expand rapid testing sites at all points of entry to the community to help locate the virus and prevent entry into the community.
- Establish and staff a field hospital to deal with the shortage of beds and health care workers.
- Restrict business to essential services only. No more patios – pick-up and delivery only.
- Implement a community-wide curfew.
- Erect checkpoints at the entrance to all hamlets to restrict entry to residents and essential services only, including flights to Fort Chipewyan.
- Move immediately to online learning only for Northland School Division schools in the region.
- Enforce mask and social gathering bylaws and ticket violators.
Says Adam: “These are all actions that have been implemented in jurisdictions that have fared better than we have, and they are proven effective. Maybe Kenney could try some of these out for a change. Literally, anything would be better than what he has been doing. Our region is losing the battle with COVID-19, and we cannot accept the lack of meaningful action and response any longer.”
FOR MORE INFO PLEASE CONTACT
Chief Allan Adam
President, Athabasca Tribal Council
Chief, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation