(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

Mission will begin reopening process on June 1

Part of Municipal Hall to open, plans in works for Welton Common, RCMP and fire station front desks

Potential for gravel removal this summer in Chilliwack has riled river stewards

Group says no ‘discernible merit’ for gravel mining when balanced off with the environmental damage

New book details 1893 murder in Abbotsford and 2 trials that followed

Farmer John Marshall was found dead on his Sumas Prairie property

Harrison Hot Springs Resort eases in to reopening

Reservations available Friday, May 29

Mission’s outdoor farmer’s market to return on June 6

The market will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday until Oct. 3

B.C. records no new COVID-19 deaths for the first time in weeks

Good news comes despite 11 new test-positive cases in B.C. in the past 24 hours

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The importance of accurate, ethical reporting is critical – perhaps as never before

BC Corrections to expand list of eligible offenders for early release during pandemic

Non-violent offenders are being considered for early release through risk assessment process

Officials looking for answers after Abbotsford football star found dead in Sask. lake

Saskatchewan Health Authority looking into circumstances surrounding Samwel Uko’s hospital visit

Fraser Valley driver featured on ‘Highway Thru Hell’ TV show dies

Monkhouse died Sunday night of a heartattack, Jamie Davis towing confirmed

B.C. visitor centres get help with COVID-19 prevention measures

Destination B.C. gearing up for local, in-province tourism

Most Read