Beverly Tupper did not realize that border services officers were stationed 15 kilometers from her home until her husband was arrested on the way to Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories to buy the grocery store.
Residents of Fort Fitzgerald, Alberta, eight residents, must now present identification whenever they cross the territory. They are then allowed to go to Fort Smith to buy groceries or other essentials.
The border is normally identified only by a small blue sign indicating “Alberta” on the right side of the road.
“It’s strange,” said Tupper. “It’s a little weird because we’re isolated from the rest of Alberta.”
Fort Fitzgerald is located along the banks of the Slave River, just below the border between the Northwest Territories and Alberta. It is part of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Alberta.
The community is accessible from the south by the Fort Chipewyan winter road, which Parks Canada closed to traffic last week.
Dr. Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer for the Northwest Territories, issued a travel ban last Friday to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Transportation officers were stationed at the four main points of entry into the territory on Saturday morning: those near the communities of Fort Smith, Fort Liard, Fort McPherson and Enterprise, N.W.T. They are there to tell non-N.W.T. residents try to cross the border to turn around.
Exemptions for residents of Fitzgerald
The eight residents of Fort Fitzgerald have been neighbors for twenty years, said Tupper. They met daily at Tupper’s for a morning coffee break – until the coronavirus pandemic. Now they register by phone at least once a day.
“We are like a family here, you would say,” said Tupper.
This is just the beginning.– François Paulette, resident of Fort Fitzgerald
All are currently self-monitoring for their own safety, said Tupper. They are all elderly.
Gerry Cheezie, Chief of Smith’s Landing First Nation, which straddles the border between the Northwest Territories and Alberta, said that he had had a meeting with the Northwest Territories. Premier Caroline Cochrane before the travel ban was announced last week. The chief explained how residents of Fort Fitzgerald depend on Fort Smith for essentials like groceries and medicine.
Cheezie said people will be able to cross the border for these basic needs, but will be refused if they come for social visits.
“We always realize that we need to have protocols in place so that people can take responsibility for their own health and safety,” said Cheezie.
In a statement, the territory’s health department said residents of Fort Fitzgerald could not enter the northwestern United States. except for essential services. Residents of Fort Smith should avoid crossing the border into Fort Fitzgerald.
The ministry said residents of Fort Fitzgerald are able to use certain N.W.T. airports, including Fort Smith Airport, to fly to other parts of Alberta, but only if they have not left Fort Fitzgerald in the past 14 days.
François Paulette, a resident of Fort Fitzgerald, has been advocating for a regional emergency response plan for five years. He would like leaders on both sides of the border to take the coronavirus as a learning opportunity.
“This is just the start,” said Paulette. “We will be hit harder by something else and we will have to be prepared.”
Questions about coronavirus testing
Tupper said she would like to know how she, or someone else, in her community could be tested.
The Fort Smith Health Center reports on its website that it provides medical services to residents of Fort Fitzgerald.
The N.W.T. the health department recommends that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms do an online self-assessment or call a helpline number for one of the four regional centers. From there, a health care provider will offer more advice on how people can get tested.
Dr. Kandola said the travel ban will continue until further notice.