'Our ancestors knew': Maskwacis Cree enact Treaty 6 Medicine Chest clause over virus outbreak
EDMONTON -- Several Cree First Nations have jointly enacted Treaty 6’s Medicine Clause to call a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The chiefs of Ermineskin Cree Nation, Samson Cree Nation, Louis Bull Tribe and Montana Band met Sunday to make the “difficult decision.”
The leaders fear present issues of overcrowding, lack of health care capacity and proximity to Alberta’s largest cities and outbreak centres make their nations particularly vulnerable.
“If the virus were to get into the First Nations communities, it could be devastating,” Marlene Poitras, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Tuesday at a conference and gathering of the chiefs on Ermineskin First Nation.
“The Maskwacis declaration is unique in that it specifically references the Famine and Pestilence Clause in treaty. Our ancestors knew that these days were coming.”
The Medicine Chest clause is not present in the treaties signed before Treaty 6, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia. Its famine and pestilence clause grants Treaty 6 nations protection from those things.
The chiefs did not expand on what commitment they were looking for from the federal government.
“We’re hoping that the government does their part now,” Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback said.
“They’ve got to follow through and respect their part of the treaty.”
According to Alberta Health, one COVID-19 case has been confirmed in Wetaskiwin County, with which Treaty 6 territory overlaps.
Ermineskin Cree Nation activated its emergency operations centre on March 17, the same day the province of Alberta declared a public health emergency.
The nation has been limiting house service calls to top-priority calls and gatherings to 10 people or less, with physical distancing.
On Tuesday, the leaders pleaded for their youngest members to respect the precautions.
“Young people, you heard your leaders,” International Chief Wilton Littlechild said.
“Listen. Listen to their message that this is a very serious issue and you need to take care of yourself. Take good care of yourself.”
The office of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations was also closed earlier in the month to ensure the safety of workers and minimize community transition, but has remained operational.