Chief of Peguis First Nation rejects premier’s call to end holiday gatherings

WINNIPEG — Peguis First Nation is allowing visitors to gather with family over the holidays, despite the calls from Manitoba’s premier to follow provincial health orders.

While the First Nation appears to have support from the federal government, the premier has written a letter to the prime minister asking him to step in and stop the gatherings.

Peguis First Nation has said extended family and students are allowed to gather in the community from Dec. 23 to 28 and Dec. 31 to Jan. 1.

“This is well-meaning but mistaken,” Premier Brian Pallister said on Tuesday.

The First Nation is saying that unlike other communities in the province, it has a low COVID-19 case count and because of its own lockdown procedures it will allow visits.

“I really don’t care what the premier has to say,” said Chief Glenn Hudson. “We feel we’re doing it safely and we have every right as First Nations to do this. I know we’re on federal land.”

On Tuesday, the premier said it is critical for the community to follow the provincial orders and that there can’t be “two sets of rules.”

Hudson said he has spoken with Marc Miller, Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Services, who was fine with the measures.

Pallister thinks backing this decision is a mistake and wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to correct it.

“I’m deeply disappointed that the federal minister, minister Miller, would come out and say that’s fine with him,” Pallister said Tuesday. “It’s not fine, it’s wrong.”

Hudson said Peguis First Nation has been locked down longer than the rest of Manitoba and brought case numbers close to zero, which is why they are allowing visitors.

“All Manitobans could have enjoyed it too if (Pallister) locked down early, but I guess the economy is more important to him than people’s lives,” said Hudson.

Hudson said he feels the protocols the First Nation has in place will limit a post-Christmas spike. Some of the protocols include limited entry points, a curfew, and a pre-registration system.

If numbers do climb, Hudson said he would be willing to shut down again.

The health orders that prevent gatherings in Manitoba are in place until Jan. 8.

In an email to CTV News, Minister Miller’s office said First Nation communities will decide what is best for them.

“We are deeply concerned by the rise in COVID-19 cases among Indigenous Peoples in Manitoba. We will continue to work with Indigenous communities to ensure their health and safety while providing support to avoid future outbreaks,” the statement said.

Miller’s office said Miller and Indigenous Services Canada continues to be in contact with Peguis First Nation and Hudson about the pandemic.

“Our priority remains supporting Indigenous leaders as they work to protect the health and safety of their Nations.”

-with files from CTV’s Jeff Keele 

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