Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation is passing emergency legislation that will require anyone wanting to enter its traditional territory to obtain written permission first.
The move comes on the heels of the arrival of two people from Quebec, who made a cross-country journey from that province, apparently in order to seek refuge in the Yukon’s northernmost community, Old Crow.
“One of our critical weaknesses are the behaviours and practices of individuals,” Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm told the News on March 31. “We have noticed, and this is why we worked on the legislation right away, that some people shared a little bit of that irrational fear as with the two Quebecois. We had a few people travelling down to British Columbia to grab family members and bring them up to Old Crow.”
The legislation, titled the Community Emergency Act, was expected to be passed the afternoon of April 1, with Tizya-Tramm explaining the government was just waiting for the approval of Vuntut Gwitchin’s elders’ council.
The couple arrived in the community on March 27. By coincidence, this is when the legislation was first introduced, Tizya-Tramm said.
“They were actually putting themselves and our community in danger,” he said. “We don’t have the medical staff to deal with the significant outbreak in the community.”
One-fifth of Old Crow’s population is made up of elders, he added. If one dies, that will send “echoes through the generations.”
The point is to be proactive so that, in the off-chance COVID-19 does arrive in the community, it can be stamped out quickly, Tizya-Tramm said.
Several measures are will be put in place.
A group of community safety officers is being established, whereby frequent patrols will occur.
“If they see a large gathering, they will simply call the RCMP,” Tizya-Tramm explained.
There are fines of up to $5,000 or six months of jail time for those who don’t follow orders.
Tizya-Tramm said this emergency legislation is the first to be done by a self-governing First Nation.
VGFN put out a public statement this week stating that non-residents aren’t allowed in the community. It calls on all visitors to self-isolate for 14 days prior to entering the community. Upon arrival, an additional two weeks of isolation is tacked on. All visitors, including those providing essential services, must have approval from chief and council. Once there’s approval, Air North will be alerted ahead of boarding.
Tizya-Tramm recounted what happened last week when the Quebec couple entered the community.
The man, he said, got off the plane in sneakers and sweatpants. He had no gloves.
They were taken to a housing co-op in order to prevent interaction with community members and then ordered to self-isolate.
“You could feel the fear from over the phone,” Tizya-Tramm said. “He was telling me there was going to be military and tanks rolling through the streets in Quebec and the virus is spreading. They told me they felt Old Crow would be the safest place in Canada to get away from this virus.”
“He told me he could contact people in his dreams and so he was looking for someone named ‘Jenna’ in our community. He literally dreamed this up. As a government official, that does not constitute a passport.”
Tizya-Tramm said the man had no idea how a self-governing First Nation works.
“They didn’t have a cell phone. They had nothing but the clothes on their backs, a plastic bag and a phone in a hotel room.”
He said they left the community on March 29, having been escorted by the RCMP.
Contact Julien Gignac at firstname.lastname@example.org