Volunteer firefighters are stationed at the entrance to Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation telling visitors all its businesses are closed as a precaution against COVID-19 and advising them not to enter.
“We cannot risk this illness reaching us. The way I look at it, death is at our door and it’s not welcome here. If we can do anything to prevent it getting in here, then we will,” said Chief Wendy Jocko.
A state of emergency in the small community about an hour and a half west of Ottawa on Golden Lake was declared on March 31 — Jocko’s second day on the job.
She said her training in the military and as a funeral director prepared her for making difficult decisions.
The way I look at it, death is at our door and it’s not welcome here.– Wendy Jocko, Chief of Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation
Nearly 200 cars from Ottawa, Belleville and around eastern Ontario arrived on Tuesday alone, Jocko said, after Ontario closed government-run cannabis stores.
Pikwakanagan is home to 10 cannabis stores, along with gas stations and a handful of cigarette shops.
“We’ve witnessed a significant influx of people in our community and this increase was drastically increasing the risk of exposure to our members and our front-line workers,” she explained.
Protecting the vulnerable
Though there hasn’t been a confirmed COVID-19 case in the Algonquin community, health-care workers recommended the shutdown to protect vulnerable people.
Jocko estimates around 70 people in the community of 450 are more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of their age or health, plus residents of its long-term care home.
Community health nurse Brittany Martin says the structure of the community also puts families at risk.
“First Nations communities often have a large number of people living in very close quarters. For the spread of the disease, it will occur quickly,” she said.
“Families are usually close-knit as well so there’s often multiple generations living in the same home and people caring for elderly parents.”
Though there was initial concern about the supply of drinking water, so far bottled water deliveries have been sufficient, Martin noted.
The community’s food bank is delivering more, prioritizing the vulnerable so they don’t have to go grocery shopping.
While all events have been cancelled in April, leaders have organized virtual activities such as window-decorating competitions.
It’s not clear whether the mid-August pow wow will take place but a “family gathering” inviting relatives from the Algonquin community Kitigan Zibi that same weekend has been cancelled.
The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte and Akwesasne, which has a confirmed case of the American side of the border, are also under states of emergency.