Montana security Nolan Desjarlais and Amber Daychild at security gates and booths on Bobtail Road. (Photo submitted by Chevi Rabbit)

Montana security Nolan Desjarlais and Amber Daychild at security gates and booths on Bobtail Road. (Photo submitted by Chevi Rabbit)

Maskwacis developed comprehensive COVID-19 security measures

By Chevi Rabbit

For Ponoka News

The Four Nations of Maskwacis — Montana, Samson, Ermineskin and Louis Bull — have each developed their own comprehensive security measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Each community has its own interconnected strategy but has a common goal of stopping the spread of the virus.

“I was involved in the initial setup of the Louis Bull First Nations COVID-19 security and I can speak on what we did,” said Chasity Roasting, Louis Bull First Nation health director and director of emergency management (DEM).

“Initially the emergency operational coordinator (EOC) met to discuss what actions needed to be taken at the beginning of the pandemic. We worked with Louis Bull human resources to develop security personnel based on a qualified and certified list,” said Roasting.

A detailed plan was set up to control access points in and out of Louis Bull First Nation. It was decided that 12 roads would remain open and give access to Louis Bull. The Nation also hired 36 trained and qualified COVID-19 security guards to cover for 24 hours, seven days a week security.

The Louis Bull team decided on schedules, set up parameters, purchased security gates, and cement barriers.

“As COVID numbers increased, access points were closed to prevent the community spread of COVID-19. Right now, there are only three access point roads open,” said Roasting.

“These measures are in place to control and monitor individuals and families dealing with COVID-19 and to cut down the number of infected community members.”

Also, Louis Bull has the only active isolation trailers.

“Montana First Nation strategy is to monitor and prevent the spread of the virus,” said Reggie Rabbit, Montana First Nation councillor.

“Like the other nations, we have our DEM and ECO that keep in touch with the other three First Nations communities of Maskwacis.”

Montana First Nation closed off one of three access points to the community.

“The health and safety of Montana is taken very seriously. We needed to ensure the public and nation members were aware so we built security gates and security booths at both approved access points,” said Rabbit.

Rabbit further explains that Montana also created a new security team through Akamihk Kanatasky Ventures (AKV) Ltd. to complement and assist COVID-19 security at the gates.

AKV is a band-owned business and the new security officers are managed through it and their role is to patrol the nation.

“The heroes are Maskwacis COVID security,” said Rabbit.

“They keep the Nation members safe during these trying times.”

And in these trying times, mental health is a concern as well.

“Coming from a criminal justice background, I know this pandemic has exacerbated existing social conditions,” said Rabbit.

“Overall, we have seen a decrease in criminal activity but an increase in mental health issues.”

Recently, Montana held a dance challenge to improve ‘mental hygiene.’

Montana chief and council donated prize money for COVID-19 security employee participation.

“This is important because as frontline workers they deal with very stressful interactions.”

“Our role right now is to enforce Ermineskin Curfew Law. It starts at 10 p.m. and ends at 6 a.m.,” said Kayrol Winehandle, manager of Ermineskin’s security department.

“What we do is monitor traffic and ask questions … like, are they non-residents or residents? And we track where they go in the community.”

Winehandle explains that Ermineskin’s DEM and ECO coordinate with Maskwacis Health Services (MHS) to track and monitor COVID-19 cases in the community.

“We get our directives from our DEM and ECO,” said Winehandle.

“Our team meets every two weeks by conference call to share concerns and come up with strategies. For example, we talk about how to deliver food hampers to households with Covid 19.

“I am really proud of our young people. It’s been 11 months since this pandemic began … They really stepped up during this pandemic. They are determined and committed workers,” said Winehandle.

Vernon Saddleback, Chief of Samson Cree Nation says for the first part of the pandemic, his role a chief was to “provide support to my team, guidance, allocate financial support and set up our emergency management.

“What we did in Samson was create a zero-tolerance for partying in the town sites. We found that many of the super spreader events took place at these parties. We sent out letters informing residents of the zero tolerance for partying.”

He explains that tough measures needed to be taken to ensure the safety of the residence.

“I needed to ensure that this health crisis didn’t become a political crisis,” said Saddleback.

“Before the pandemic, we had zero suicides in the last two years. What we have seen is an increase in mental health issues and an increase in suicides. We haven’t been able to send out supports.

“As the leader of my Nation, I’m here to support. That we get through this together,” said Saddleback.