(The Canadian Press)

Mixed messages: Ottawa, Moe differ on Indigenous ceremonies during pandemic

Indigenous community leaders know what needs to be done to keep people safe, PM says

Saskatchewan’s premier says First Nations are receiving mixed messages after Canada’s Indigenous services minister said sacred ceremonies would be allowed to continue despite restrictions put in place due to COVID-19.

“No one should be exempt from these health orders because, quite frankly, no one is exempt from the virus,” Scott Moe said Thursday afternoon.

Concern about ceremonies surfaced after RCMP were dispatched to a Saskatchewan First Nation where people were holding a sun-dance ceremony last weekend. Organizers said they worried important traditions were being pushed back underground.

A federal ban on Indigenous ceremonies and potlatches came into place in 1884 and lasted until the 1950s. Minister Marc Miller said earlier Thursday that banning sacred ceremonies is a “dark stain” on the country’s history.

“Even in the face of a historic pandemic, Canada must not and will not prohibit these important practices,” Miller said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Indigenous community leaders know what needs to be done to keep people safe.

“We should be able to work with them to develop ways of continuing with important customs and practices for them in a way that abides by health recommendations,” he said.

Saskatchewan RCMP said they received two reports of a large public gathering on the Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation, about 90 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, on Sunday.

There were 35 people taking part in the ceremony, but attendees said they were following precautions set by the chief and council, including social distancing and having temperatures taken.

A public-health order in Saskatchewan limits gatherings to 10 people.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, has said provincial public-health orders do not supersede First Nations laws and treaties.

Indigenous Services Canada did not clarify who has jurisdiction to enforce provincial public-health orders on First Nations. Spokesperson Leslie Michelson said in an email that First Nations leaders are encouraged to consider public-health guidelines and the department respects measures put in place by chiefs and councils.

Miller said First Nations leadership will ultimately decide whether to go ahead with ceremonies and how to do it.

Moe, however, said there should be no exceptions, since everyone relies on the provincial health system.

“With respect to the comments of the minister, as well as Indigenous Services themselves, around these particular events being exempt from public health orders — that simply cannot be the case,” Moe said.

There were 185 positive cases of COVID-19 on First Nations reserves as of Wednesday, with 43 of them in Saskatchewan.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Indigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tofino mayor urges “kindness” as tourism reopens

“Health and safety matters to everyone.”

Resorts in Tofino and Ucluelet prepare to reopen in June

“We need to get the tourist economy in our communities back up and running.”

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve plans limited reopening on June 4

The Park Reserve shut down on March 18 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Pacific Rim Hospice Society gifting free wellness “check-ins” to all West Coast residents

“This pandemic has led to a lot of isolation and it’s helpful for anybody just to have a soundboard.”

Accident, downed power lines closes Highway 4 west of Port Alberni

Detour is available near Hector Road as BC Hydro crews work to restore power

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

COVID-19: B.C. too dependent on foreign food production workers

New B.C. job site links unemployed with farm, seafood work

B.C. businesses ‘can’t shoulder burden’ of COVID-19 sick pay

Trudeau’s plan should be tied to federal emergency aid

RCMP remind public to leave dogs chilling at home on hot days

Dogsafe has designed a Dog in a Hot Car Responder Checklist

Another Asian giant ‘murder hornet’ found in Lower Mainland

This is the farthest east the invasive species has been found so far

B.C. girl left temporarily paralyzed by tick bite sparks warning from family

Mom says parents need to check their kids when they go camping

PHOTOS: Loved ones reunite at an oasis on closed U.S.-Canada border in Surrey

Officials closed the park in mid-March over coronavirus concerns

Feds delay national action plan for missing and murdered Indigenous women

Meanwhile, the pandemic has exacerbated the violence facing many Indigenous women and girls

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

Most Read