Cree police called in to action as Waswanipi tightens community access

Cree police in northern Quebec are being called into service to help residents get the message about the need to follow guidelines regarding social distancing and not gathering in large groups. 

It is just one of the new security, health and safety measures added to Cree communities as the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 intensifies in the region.

"Our police officers now have the authority to take action against people who are not abiding by the measures or the directions from the leadership," said Cree Grand Chief Abel Bosum. 

He added Eeyou-Eenou Police officers will have the authority to break up parties that are still happening in the communities and will, for now, focus on educating people. 

Our police officers now have the authority to take action. - Abel Bosum, Cree Grand Chief

"Their initial approach will be to advise people and warn people, but if people continue to ignore it, well then, they'll have to take action," said Bosum. 

Some Indigenous communities across Canada have decided on lockdowns to try and limit the spread of COVID-19. The Northwest Territories closed its border on Saturday.

Cree Nation Government/Facebook

Waswanipi lockdown to non-residents

Starting Friday, the Cree community of Waswanipi has decided to shut down all construction sites and close its community to non-residents, except essential workers. It is also putting in place a 9 p.m. curfew, and mandatory compliance with all Cree government measures regarding COVID-19.

"No access to non-residents," said Bobby Blacksmith in Cree in a video shared on the community's Facebook page. Blacksmith is the public safety officer in Waswanipi, a community of 2,000 people. 

Blacksmith added that essential service providers such as health and school board workers and mail delivery workers are allowed in. Inspection of vehicles will be mandatory at the gate. 

On a regional level, checkpoints have now been set up at the entrance to all Cree communities to give out health information and monitor movement in and out of the community, but Cree Grand Chief Bosum said Cree leaders feel the decision to close borders needs to be made by individual communities.

Shutting borders a two-edged sword: chief

"There are essential services that we'd need from the South, you know, for our communities — especially in the area of health and social services," said Bosum.

"And we we also need to keep the borders open for our people who feel they need to access essential needs. Not all our communities have big grocery stores."

There are still some contractors who are travelling to Cree communities, but the numbers are greatly reduced, according to Bosum.

"We know that if we delay construction … for some communities, it's a lost year for them," said Bosum. "It's a two-edged sword."