Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) wants the provincial government to extend the ban on non-essential travel into Northern Manitoba when it expires May 1.
The ban on travel north of the 53rd parallel was announced April 17 by chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin as part of the Manitoba government’s efforts to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“MKO would like to encourage the province of Manitoba to work closely with First Nations leadership when making any plans that would open up travel to Northern Manitoba,” said MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee in an April 28 press release.”We also encourage the province to work closely with us in developing plans to open up the economy in Manitoba; Northern Manitoba has unique circumstances and we must ensure these are reflected in public health measures developed to respond to this pandemic.”
Some First Nations in Northern Manitoba have limited access to their communities by setting up checkstops in an effort to prevent COVID-19 from gaining a foothold among their residents, who often live in crowded housing and have limited access to medical care in their own communities.
Settee said MKO would also like to see checkpoints set up by the provincial government on Highway 6 and Highway 10. To this point, the province hasn’t actually been enforcing the travel ban, choosing instead to focus on making sure the public is aware of it, arguing that most Manitobans obey the recommendations issued by the public health department.
“The public health measure prohibiting travel has been operating on an honour system,” said Settee. “The only check stop on northern highways is run by the people of the Misipawistik Cree Nation.”
MKO represents about 72,000 members of 26 Northern Manitoba First Nations.