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Maskwacis declares state of emergency amid COVID-19 pandemic

Maskwacis First Nations declare a state of emergency due to COVID-19
WATCH ABOVE: The four First Nations around Maskwacis in central Alberta have all declared COVID-19 related states of emergency. As Fletcher Kent explains, the chiefs say their communities are especially vulnerable given housing shortages and overcrowding problems.

The Maskwacis Cree Tribal Council has declared a state of emergency amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

The declaration was signed Tuesday morning by members of the Samson Cree Nation, Ermineskin Cree Nation, Louis Bull Tribe and Montana Band.

The communities are calling on the federal government to provide them with the necessary money and resources to deal with a potential COVID-19 outbreak.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Siksika Nation declares local state of emergency due to COVID-19

The chiefs note that Maskwacis, about 100 kilometres south of Edmonton, is vulnerable due to its proximity to Alberta’s two largest cities and airports.

“This declaration is not meant to create a scare or a panic.

“These type of mechanisms allow governments and councils to be able to access resources and benefits to ensure that the protection of community members are in place,” former Montana First Nation chief and current councillor, Bradley Rabbit, said.

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READ MORE: Live updates: Coronavirus in Canada

Louis Bull Tribe Chief Irvin Bull said contingency supplies and emergency lodging need to be addressed.

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“As I stated, we have 18,000 plus members. We have 2,000 homes. That’s like nine, 10 people per household. That creates an unsafe atmosphere,” he said.

“We care and we want to make sure that everything is going to be provided here in Maskwacis.”

The chiefs said COVID-19 has not yet hit their community, but if cases come, the declaration allows them to take over buildings needed to help quarantine patients.

“The resources that have been identified are not adequate to look after the challenges we face here in the community,” Rabbit said.

The emergency declaration could also lead to more action, according to the chiefs. Curfews are a possibility and there is even talk about closing off the four First Nations.

“What do we do? Buy gates? Hire security? So these are extra costs that we are going to be incurring,” Bull said.

Bull also took the opportunity to stress the importance of physical distancing within the community.

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“I want to send a message out to our members, the parents, grandparents that are raising their grandchildren. A lot of our children and youth are still running around, maybe even partying. They shouldn’t be doing that. They should be staying home. Even the prime minister of this country is encouraging people to stay home,” he said.

READ MORE: Manitoba Southern Chiefs’ Organization declares state of COVID-19 emergency

The local declaration came on the heels of the Assembly of First Nations declaring a national state of emergency Tuesday.

The assembly’s motion said special consideration must be given to Canada’s 96 remote, fly-in Indigenous communities.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde said Indigenous communities need immediate increases in funding and full involvement in all discussions with governments on planning and preparedness.

He said while the announced federal funding is a good start, more will be required.

The motion also affirms support for all First Nations that have already declared states of emergency, travel bans and other measures.

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