STONEY NAKODA – As the weather warms up and the province finishes up its sixth week in a state of public health emergency, Stoney Nakoda is asking neighbouring non-Nation Albertans to stay at home.
“Trespassing has always been an issue, so we are just trying to educate our neighbours,” Stoney Tribal Administration CEO Ryan Robb said in a phone interview.
“We decided it was in the best interest and health of the Nation to try and limit exposure, so we are asking non-members to stay at home.”
The humble 4,000 to 5,000 populated three-band reserve borders several municipalities including Canmore, MD of Bighorn hamlets, Kananaskis Country and Cochrane. It is also approximately a half hour drive from Calgary.
With three positive COVID-19 cases on the Nation in Eden Valley, as of April 24, neighbouring regions ID No. 9 Banff and Municipal District of Banff, which includes Lake Louise, Banff, Canmore and Exshaw has four active cases, 16 recovered, and the Rocky View County region has eight active cases and 23 recovered.
The first presumptive case of COVID-19 hit Alberta on March 5, with positive cases increasing to 3,401 across the province as of April 22. There have been more than 150 hospitalizations due to the virus and 66 recorded deaths.
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw confirmed the first COVID-19 case on a reserve on Wednesday (April 22) with a positive case in Sucker Creek First Nation.
“We’ve identified our first case on a First Nation. [Alberta Health Services] is working with Sucker Creek First Nation on one case – a contact of a High Prairie case,” Hinshaw said during a press conference earlier this week.
“There is no outbreak. Sucker Creek is well-prepared and also dealing with a flood. I commend them for their resilience.”
Stoney Nakoda has also confirmed three positive cases in Eden Valley as of April 24 and is trying to determine the source of infection.
Robb said there are two ways to get the newly infectious virus in Stoney Nakoda – non-Nation members can bring it into the reserve when visiting, or Nation members going to neighbouring communities for essential services can come in contact and bring it back.
“This virus does not discriminate,” Robb said.
In an effort to encourage neighbours to stay home, the Nakoda Emergency Management team has recently ordered 4x4 "No Trespassing" signs it will be installing in the coming days in some of the 20 identified access points to the Nation.
The Nation has also hosted checkstops in the townsite with emergency personnel handing out information sheets reminding Nation members of the AHS recommendations, including leaving only for essentials, keeping the six feet distance and washing your hands with soap and water 20 seconds before you leave home and return.
“Obviously this is a pretty dynamic situation and we are trying to weigh our risks and balance … while following AHS recommendations," Robb said.
"Right now, we are try to do as much from an education perspective as we can."
Nation officials also acknowledged it is not a unique problem Stoney Nakoda is facing, as neighbouring mountain town municipalities, Canmore and Banff, also continue to urge people to stay home.
Over the Easter weekend, Banff emergency services were stopping vehicles in the two town entrances to discourage visitors from entering the townsite. Out of the 181 vehicles with day-trippers, half continued into the community. After the weekend, that municipality announced it would start turning them away.
Meanwhile, Canmore announced it would not put checkstops at its entrances for a number of reasons, including the complexity of the geography of the municipality.
After the pandemic hit, Canmore Mayor John Borrowman told the Outlook it was “not appropriate” for visitors to stop in town.
Now the Nation is asking the same.
In a release sent out on April 17, officials asked those travelling off the Nation only leave for essential needs, go with the minimum amount of people necessary with only one person to go into any store or business and to leave children at home.
Meanwhile, for on the Nation, officials said only Stoney band members, approved non-members, essential services, first responders and employees/contractors are permitted to enter, or stay on the reserve.
“Unauthorized visitors will be asked to leave,” the statement read.
Robb said he understands people want to enjoy the nice weather, but now is not the time to be day-tripping to the Nation.
“These are private lands and I think people forget that,” he said.
“I don’t believe anyone is trying to be nefarious, but we need to protect ourselves as well.”