Grand Council Treaty #3 Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh recently sent the following letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on international border issues and how it relates to Treaty #3 territory in Northwestern Ontario.
Dear Prime Minister,
Canada and the U.S. agreed in March, 2020, to temporarily close the border to non-essential travel, while keeping it open to commercial traffic and essential workers who cross for work purposes. This agreement has been extended every month, most recently to July 21st. The Leadership of Treaty #3 territory advocates that the Border remain closed indefinitely given the exponential growth of COVID-19 cases in the United States in recent weeks. The Anishinaabe Nation of Treaty #3, consisting of 28 First Nation communities, borders both the United States by land and by water (Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake). The border issue remains a deep concern to our communities given our proximity to highway border crossings and the border lakes which creates additional access points and concerns of exposure.
As a Nation, we required our regional organizations to conduct weekly meetings to ensure communication was flowing throughout and our Chiefs could act as needed as key issues emerged. Our communities have been fortunate to date to have had limited COVID-19 cases and I applaud the efforts undertaken by our leadership to mitigate the COVID-19 health risk. Our communities have implemented proactive measures such as:
- Establishing First Nation community access check points.
- Restricting visitors to the First Nation community to essential services only.
- Limiting community travel out to urban areas to 1-2 days per week, and in some instances full lockdown.
- Implementing food security measures, ie grocery boxes delivered to households.
- Supporting children and youth with recreational activities and educational supports during the pandemic period
- Promoting and ensuring adherence to the public health guidelines such as mask wearing, frequent handwashing, physical distancing and upholding By Laws allowing for the charging of citizens who did not adhere to Quarantine Act and public health measures.
- Requiring the closure of offices and businesses.
- Implementing COVID-19 testing by our regional health organizations in partnership with our mainstream health partners.
The media has already provided reports of US citizens who have stopped in BC, Alberta and the Yukon for sightseeing and shopping and our leadership is deeply concerned that US visitors are displaying disrespect and non-compliance with Canadian public health guidelines. Recently, two US residents were fined and charged under the Quarantine Act for failure to comply in the border town of Fort Frances, ON, where several of our First Nation communities are located. Opening the Border could magnify the issue and create an outbreak of COVID-19 for which recovery would be difficult.
Treaty #3 leadership and health organizations have expressed significant concerns of the risks to our people who already have limited health care and significant chronic health conditions for which exposure to COVID-19 could be a death sentence. At this time there is no national US comprehensive testing and contact tracing process in place to alleviate the fears of US travellers who come to our territory from every state to partake in the beauty of our location.
Until such time as the risk decreases and other measures are in place to mitigate the risk such as a COVID 19 vaccine, our leadership requests the Prime Minister maintain a strict Border closure Policy.
Ogichidaa, Francis Kavanaugh
Grand Chief, Grand Council Treaty #3