The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) is voicing disappointment on how RCMP dispersed a cultural gathering under COVID-19 public health orders.
According to a news release, Beardy’s and Okemasis Chief Edwin Ananas received a call on Sunday regarding a sundance taking place on the territory.
RCMP dispersed approximately 20 people taking part; however, the release said all were following safety protocols and private security officers were on site.
Ananas said the First Nation’s leadership is frustrated because chief and council were not contacted prior to police coming to the gathering.
“We are also frustrated with the simple fact that there are more people at a Walmart at any given time than there is at a sundance, but you don’t see police going in to break up those mass gatherings, so why are First Nations spiritual and healing ceremonies being targeted?” he questioned.
The FSIN said it supports any First Nation who wishes to conduct a traditional ceremony while following proper physical distancing.
“We don’t need anyone telling us we won’t be allowed to conduct ceremonies,” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron.
“Our knowledge keepers know how to use our traditional medicines from the land to heal our people and have been conducting these ceremonies and traditional healing practices for centuries. Our ceremonies have lived through past pandemics and will continue on through this one as well.”
Vice-Chief David Pratt also expressed disappointment, saying some First Nations have reported that officers are attempting to stop traditional ceremonies.
“With a number of other issues facing our communities, we do not believe the RCMP resources are best spent on patrolling spiritual practice complaints in First Nations territories.”
Beardy’s and Okemasis is located about 60 km southwest of Prince Albert, near Duck Lake.
In Wednesday’s COVID-19 media update, a reporter asked Premier Scott Moe why the public health order—which caps public and private gatherings at 10 people—doesn’t grant an exception for First Nations ceremonies.
“The virus doesn’t care. It just simply doesn’t,” Moe responded.
“The public health orders that are in place apply to everyone, quite frankly because this virus…impacts and affects everyone.”
He said organizers of other religious and cultural gatherings have modified them to fit the order. Ramadan celebrations, for example, are looking much different than Moe’s ever seen.
I will be be talking to Bobby Cameron with respect to how we can work together…on how we can do better by serving our people, but by also ensuring that they can still gather like many other gatherings have, but ensure that they are staying physically distant and keeping our communities and our citizens safe.”
Cameron said the FSIN has been encouraging everyone to continue not just physical distancing, but hand washing, not touching their faces and staying home if they’re feeling sick or displaying symptoms of the virus.