Maskwacis activates 'medicine chest' treaty clause, declaring state of emergency

The four First Nations of Maskwacis have declared a state of emergency, activating Treaty 6 measures to ensure the safety of residents should COVID-19 reach their communities.

The chiefs of the Samson, Ermineskin, Louis Bull Tribe and Montana nations met on Sunday night and agreed to declare a Maskwacis Cree state of emergency, states a news release issued Tuesday.

The communities are calling on the federal government to provide them with the necessary funds and resources to deal with a potential outbreak. 

“At this time, our Nations are experiencing a shortage of health-care facilities, emergency equipment, medical supplies and medical staff to sustain and support the more than 18,000 persons who reside within our territory,” says the statement.

The chiefs note that Maskwacis, about 100 kilometres south of Edmonton, is vulnerable due to its proximity to Alberta’s two main cities and airports.

“Our peoples are at greater risk as our territory is located in the geographical area between two COVID-19 hot zones — Edmonton and Calgary,” states the news release. 

“Calgary was chosen as one of four international airports in Canada that is still allowing international flights and is two hours south of our region. We are deeply concerned COVID-19 may reach our Nation(s), and we do not have adequate resources to effectively handle any local outbreak.”

The chiefs said the declaration is intended to activate the medicine chest and famine and pestilence clauses of Treaty 6. 

Treaty 6, signed in 1876, was the first treaty to include the clauses. At the time, Indigenous nations on the Prairies were starving and sick as a result of the depletion of bison and an epidemic of smallpox and tuberculosis that arrived with the European settlers, according to an online article published by the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law.

The terms of the clauses included the storage of a medicine chest at the Indian agent’s house, additional agricultural implements than were provided in previous treaties, and a promise to protect Indigenous people from future famine and pestilence problems.

The clauses have been interpreted by Indigenous leaders to mean that the federal government has an obligation to provide all forms of health-care to First Nations people on an ongoing basis.  

A news conference to be held Tuesday morning is expected to include the four Maskwicis chiefs — Ermineskin Chief Craig Makinaw, Samson Chief Vernon Saddleback, Montana Chief Leonard Three Fingers and Louis Bull Chief Irvin Bull —  William Morin, the newly installed Treaty 6 Grand Chief, and Wilton Littlechild, a lawyer, former MP and former Treaty 6 Grand Chief.

As of Monday, there were 301 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alberta. Government data shows there is one case in Wetaskiwin County

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