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On March 19, Chief April Martel of K’atlodeeche First Nation stands at one of two checkpoints erected on that day at entrances to the Hay River Reserve because of fears of the coronavirus. The checkpoints have since been taken down, but reserve residents are now concerned about unidentified people from Alberta and British Columbia visiting the reserve.
NNSL file photo

There is concern on the Hay River Reserve about unknown visitors, and whether they are following proper precautions against Covid-19.

“I get a lot of phone calls about people with different licence plates not from the Northwest Territories,” said Chief April Martel of K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN). “They’re coming into the reserve. They’re coming into our area and then some of them are even going to our Ehdah Cho Store.”

Martel said others have gone fishing or visited Sandy Creek.

Some of the unknown visitors are driving vehicles with Alberta and British Columbia licence plates.

“Our people are kind of scared, our staff especially,” Martel said, referring to workers at Ehdah Cho Store, a grocery and gas bar operated by KFN.

The chief noted the staff at the store won’t serve the unknown visitors, and won’t even turn on the gas pump for them because some of the workers are living with family members at high risk from the coronavirus.

Martel doesn’t understand why the people driving out-of-territory vehicles are in the NWT, noting they don’t seem to be essential workers.

“I have no idea,” she said. “Some are here touring. They’re coming from Alberta and going around all the parks and stuff. And some of them said that they came from Fort Smith. And I’m like, ‘Oh, well, you shouldn’t be coming here.’ We already announced that you’re only to come to Ehdah Cho Store and leave.”

Martel is also wondering if the unknown travellers are in the NWT partly because of recently-announced changes to border restrictions.

“It’s just confusing,” she said. “I don’t get the whole thing.”

Martel has contacted Protect NWT about the concerns, and also advises reserve residents to call the GNWT if they see unknown visitors.

The chief said there is no problem with people from Hay River coming onto the reserve to go to Ehdah Cho Store.

“They come to the store,” she said, “and they mask up and glove up, and they’re following all the rules. I have no problems with them coming over here.”

Nor is there a problem with KFN members returning from Alberta or B.C., since they go into self-isolation.

“But other people don’t do that,” Martel said. “They’re just kind of driving in, and then I get the phone call or one of my council members gets the phone call. It’s constantly like that. It’s just about every friggin’ day.”

The chief has expressed her concerns to the GNWT.

Mike Westwick, manager of communications for Covid-19 response with the Department of Health and Social Services, said the concerns are being looked into.

“We can confirm that we’ve received Chief Martel’s reports to Protect NWT and our compliance and enforcement group is investigating,” Westwick said. “It’s an ongoing investigation. We’re not going to be able to say too much more right now.”

On March 19, KFN erected checkpoints at the entrances to the reserve – the main ice crossing and the access road off Highway 5.

The final checkpoint was removed on May 15, mainly to lessen the negative economic impact on Ehdah Cho Store.

However, people not living on the reserve were advised to just go to Ehdah Cho Store and then leave, and take Covid-19 precautions while on the reserve, including wearing facemasks.

Martel noted there was no problem with unknown visitors when the checkpoint was in place.

And she can’t rule out the possibility that the checkpoint will be re-established.

“We’re not sure at the moment,” she said. “We don’t want to put a check stop up right  now because basically we don’t want to close the store down. So we’re just going to kind of leave it and monitor it.”

KFN is planning to erect a sign at the highway entrance to the reserve to advise people there are rules for visiting during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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