(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

MISSING: Mission RCMP asking for help locating Kevin Hewko

Hewko, 32, last seen in Mission on Sept. 20, but is know to frequent Abbotsford

Falling tree claims life in Langley

Victim was reportedly out for a walk on a rural road

Fraser Health confirms expanded COVID-19 testing services coming

Long lines, several days waiting list as demand for testing surges in region

Sunny skies ahead for Fraser Valley this week

Rain and smoke nowhere in the forecast after weeks of weather alerts

BC launches 22 new primary care networks, including one in Mission

Will be adding family physicians, a nurse practitioner and a social worker

QUIZ: Do you know what’s on TV?

Fall is normally the time when new television shows are released

Canadian ski resorts wrestle with pandemic-vs.-profit dilemma as COVID-19 persists

Few are actually restricting the total number of skiers they allow on the hill

Victoria-area RCMP locate high-risk sex offender thanks to help of taxi cab driver

Scott Jones wanted on a Canada-wide warrant, ‘a risk to women and girls,’ police say

A (virtual) walk around the world by 88-year-old B.C. man

George Doi says it’s simple: ‘I like walking’

End of CERB means uncertainty for some, new system for others

As of a week ago, the CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Horgan, Wilkinson trade barbs over MSP premiums, health care at campaign stops

Horgan called a snap election for Oct. 24 earlier this week

VIDEO: COVID won’t dampen Lower Mainland woman’s Halloween spirit

Langley’s Tanya Reid posted video offering suggestions of how trick-or-treating might look for her

Most Read