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Coronavirus: FSIN, MN-S say health order discriminates against northern Saskatchewan residents

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WATCH: A joint release from the FSIN and MN-S says the travel restrictions to stop the coronavirus spreading go too far and that officers have shown unfair and disrespectful treatment – May 12, 2020

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Metis Nation-Saskatchewan and the Meadow Lake Tribal Council said the public health order restricting travel to prevent the novel coronavirus spreading in northern Saskatchewan discriminates against residents.

In a joint press release, the three groups state the “security checkpoints in the North have gone too far” and that “complaints are being made against security officers for unfair and disrespectful treatment.”

The statement said Canoe Lake Cree First Nation Chief Francis Iron and English River First Nation Chief Jerry Bernard were, on separate occasions, trying to deliver supplies to band members but weren’t permitted to pass through checkpoints.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan defends COVID 19 checkpoints following criticism from Indigenous group

“Our First Nation primary cheque signatory lives in Flying Dust and our families on social assistance and the First Nation payroll depend on those cheques and we need to pay our bills,” Chief Iron is quoted as saying in the release.

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The provincial government placed restrictions on non-essential travel into northern Saskatchewan on April 24 to prevent a coronavirus outbreak from spreading.

It subsequently tightened those restrictions as the outbreak got worse.

All non-critical travel to, from and within the Northern Saskatchewan Administrative District is not permitted except for essential reasons, like collecting groceries and attending medical appointments.

READ MORE: Northern Saskatchewan leaders want coronavirus checkpoint confusion sorted out

As of Tuesday, there are 193 actives cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan, the majority of which are in the north.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority reported the spread of COVID-19 in the northern part of the province is nearly three times greater what it is in other regions.

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MN-S president Glen McCallum says the checkpoints are a good idea but the provincial government doesn’t understand that getting food, medicine or money can require hours of travel in the north.

He told Global News the different understandings of what constitutes “essential services,” and the travel required to access them, in the north shows a lack of understanding by the provincial government.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan stops alcohol sales in La Loche to prevent spread of coronavirus

“[It’s] a reality check, I would say, in regards to how we communicate with each other [and] how we share information,” he said.
“We respect the laws but we need more cooperation and more communication in regards to how we work together as Metis, First Nations, mayors and the provincial government to be able to [put] our best foot forward in developing a response to the COVID-19 situation.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: More restrictions ordered on travel into northern Saskatchewan

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He said now was a good opportunity for all affected parties to discuss how to move forward and that better understandings bring better responses to the pandemic.

McCallum said he and other Indigenous leaders regularly speak with both the provincial and federal governments to coordinate an effective response.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.