Northern Ontario First Nation enforced tough pandemic rules by restricting access
GARDEN RIVER, Ont. — Garden River First Nation, just outside Sault Ste. Marie, restricted access to its territory to residents only on Jan. 7 in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
It appears to have been successful because after a long few weeks with restricted access in place, Garden River First Nation Chief Andy Rickard and council members lifted restrictions on Feb. 17.
There have been no recent outbreaks in Sault Ste. Maire, but if an outbreak were to occur again, the chief ensures regulation will be back in place.
The community banded together last month to ensure residents are safe by providing meal access and medical transportation services, Rickard said.
He responded to the pandemic by setting up entry checkpoints to the community to ensure people from outside areas are not trespassing.
Only residents of the reserve are allowed through and can leave if necessary, but ultimately the goal is to stay home as much as possible, he said.
“One of the things that we’re doing is trying to put the message out to our members, to please stay home. Just like other messages that are there for the average citizens,” Rickard said.
Restricted access to the reserve has made it more difficult for members to get groceries, especially for those who rely on taxi services for transportation. Alternatives have been created to assist resident needs, he said.
“We provide meal programs for elders,” Rickard said. “So they don’t have to go into town. We also have one day a week where we provide all of our citizens with curbside pick up at our wellness centre for basic grocery items such as eggs, fruit and milk.
Rickard said the objective is to provide whatever residents need so they don’t have to leave their homes.
“That’s been our main thing, is that if we can provide for our residents, they don’t need to leave home,” he said. “That helps us contain any possibilities of infecting any of our members with the virus.
“We found that it has worked especially with our elders because they are a little bit more hesitant going into town,” Rickard said.
The Naan Doo We’an Garden River Wellness Centre, located in the heart of the First Nation, has been transformed into its pandemic headquarters.
Jessica Grawbarger, the centres manager, says new programs have assisted residents and enabled medical transportation to continue.
“We have our medical transportation where we will take our on-reserve members to their various medical appointments off-reserve,” she said. “This is deemed an essential service and has been continued throughout the entire pandemic.
“We’ve retrofitted the vans to meet these needs,” Grawbarger said.
Garden River First Nation has implemented restricted access to the community twice since the beginning of the pandemic, she said.
Each time it occurs, members develop new skills and protocols to protect their members, including a nurse hotline for any individuals self-isolating, Grabarger said.
“We have a nurse-specific phone line,” she said. “It’s a confidential line if you’re self-isolating and need access to groceries, childcare or games or if you need PPE. The nurse’s hotline is available.”
After Rickard heard news from another chief in southern Ontario about an outbreak, he took all the measures he could to protect his community and said residents are adhering to the new rules since access was restricted.
“All-in-all, we’re doing the best that we can, and people are being very respectful and understand the situation that we’re in,” Rickard said.
“This is your aunt or grandmother, and these are people that we all know in the community. It’s tough already when you lose one member but let alone the possibility of losing many others,” he said.
Chief Andy Rickard, Garden River First Nation
Phone: (705) 946-6300
Cellular: (705) 257-0678
Jessica Grawbarger, Wellness Centre Manager
705-946-5710 ext. 216