Kahnawake community fighting to keep community safe from COVID-19

Kahnawake community fighting to keep it’s community safe from COVID-19
As cases of Covid-19 continue to spread across the province, the Mohawk community in Kahnawake is doing its best to keep outsiders, out. Access to the territory has been restricted but as Global's Phil Carpenter explains, some non-residents are still trying to get in, despite warnings to stay away.

The Mohawk village of Kahnawake in Quebec is fighting to protect its residents from the COVID-19 pandemic, but community leaders say outsiders are making it hard to do that.

Like elsewhere in the province, non-essential businesses in the village, including cigarette and tobacco shops, have been closed to slow the spread of the virus.

But in the weeks since the closures began on March 12, Public Security Commissioner Lloyd Phillips says people still keep coming.

“[They’re] literally knocking on people’s doors and asking if they know somebody who sells cigarettes,” he said.
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Peacekeepers’ Corporal John Dee Delormier has a message for unauthorized visitors: “Don’t come into the village to look for cigarettes or anything else,” he says.

“There’s nothing for sale.”

Authorities in the community have been trying to drive home that point for weeks now to limit the spread of the virus in the village, but the persistence of people wanting to buy goods from the First Nation territory is a serious problem, Delormier says. They’ve started issuing fines.

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“My team has been on since Monday and we’ve given out approximately 20 to 30 fines in three days,” he said.

The $1,000 fines are the same as those being issued across the province to anyone violating government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions.

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Phillips explained that Kahnawake residents are at greater risk of exposure to the virus, as more outsiders show up.

“We don’t know where they’ve been, if they’ve been self-isolating, if they’ve been taking serious precautions and so on,” he said.

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He added that there’s even the potential for motor vehicle collisions from the number of drivers darting in and out of traffic going to the cigarette shacks.

At one store that was cordoned off with yellow tape, in less than 2 minutes Global News observed 4 vehicles drive up to the shop with drivers asking if it was closed.

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Phillips said having unauthorized visitors show up trying to buy cigarettes is the biggest challenge in protecting the community from the virus.

“That’s a little struggle, but we’re taking measures to minimize that,” he smiled.

The community has installed electronic signs on the highways around Kahnawake, with notices that read in part, “COVID-19; déplacements restreints,” meaning restricted travel.

Delormier said there are exceptions, though, for people who have good reason to be there.

“If you have to stop and get gas on one of the major highways, then, by all means, do that,” he said.