The chief of the Nipissing First Nation, located between North Bay and Sudbury, says the community never really considered setting up COVID-19 checkpoints on busy Highway 17 that runs through the territory. Chief Scott McLeod said that there are too many obstacles preventing the community from monitoring exactly who is driving through the territory.
“We have approximately 30 kilometres of Trans Canada Highway going through our reserve with multiple accesses. It’s very difficult, even if we wanted, to shut down our community and put checkpoints in,” the chief said. “It’s very onerous as far as the geographical spread across our community. We looked at the logistics and we decided to use education rather than physical barriers to deal with it.”
Chief McLeod said that they planned a series of online campaigns on protective measures with the First Nation’s health department to encourage hand washing, social distancing, and wearing of masks.
The chief said he believes that the territory’s physical location has helped keep COVID out of their community where no coronavirus cases have been recorded.
“I don’t want to diminish the community’s efforts because they were very compliant and they stuck to all the rules and I commend them for that,” the chief said. “The lucky part is that we live in a geographic area where aren’t a lot of places surrounding us. We didn’t have the same pressures as other communities might have, like more populated areas of southern Ontario.”
Chief McLeod said that most people in the territory do their shopping in North Bay. But he added that some folks like to travel to Sudbury for more selection, something he is now advising against.
“With our last messaging we specified Sudbury as being one of those areas that we don’t want our members to go to because they have had an increase in cases,” the chief said. “Some of our people like to go to Costco. North Bay doesn’t have one so they would go to Sudbury. What we are telling them now is that it’s just not worth it, at this point, to go to areas with higher levels of COVID-19.”
Chief McLeod said he believes the community’s leadership has the ear of the community and most people are listening to the messaging. He added that the goal is to keep the entire territory COVID-free but he added that they also have a more specific goal — protecting vulnerable elders.
“Our culture doesn’t come from a book or an institute. Our culture and history is kept by our elders. They are our library. They are the ones who hold most of the knowledge that allowed our people to survive in this area for over 10,000 years. We place high value on our elders — our knowledge keepers and our language keepers. COVID has the potential to wipe them out in one fell swoop. We can’t let that happen. It’s vitally important that everyone keep up with the safety measures.”
John McFadden is a Local Journalism Reporter with the Parry Sound North Star, MuskokaRegion.com and Simcoe.com. LJI is funded by the Government of Canada