With the announcement of an Atlantic bubble starting July 3 and the Campbellton region joining the rest of the province in the yellow phase, COVID-19 restrictions are loosening in New Brunswick.
But Listuguj First Nation, a Mi’kmaq community across from Campbellton on the Quebec side of the Restigouche River, will have to continue watching New Brunswick from the other side of the J. C. Van Horne Bridge.
When the New Brunswick government halted non-essential incoming traffic from other provinces at the beginning of the pandemic, Listuguj found itself on the outside looking in, despite having close ties with the Campbellton area — so much so that the First Nation often eased or tightened restrictions in step with the city.
Chief Darcy Gray said he reached out to Premier Blaine Higgs and spoke with some cabinet ministers about having Listuguj included into the bubble with Campbellton, but to no avail.
“There’s been no followup at all other than a couple of phone calls with representatives from Aboriginal Affairs Department of Public Safety, but really they don’t result in anything in terms of action or change,” Gray said.
“What they’ve imposed since March 25 is what’s still been imposed to this day.”
Gray said that the community has been monitoring the cases of COVID-19 in surrounding areas very closely, with no cases of their own to report.
Gray said that a neighbouring municipality had one case that was treated swiftly.
Checkpoints removed — again
Just as Listuguj thought it was safe to take down the checkpoints it had established in the community, a new cluster of the virus was discovered on the Campbellton side.
“Things were quiet for some time in Campbellton, so we decided that it would be time, about two weeks ago, to take down our checkpoint only to find out that there was an outbreak in Campbellton and then had to put them back in place,” he said.
Gray said there has been a push from community members wanting to cross the bridge into Campbellton, but that shifted a bit when COVID-19 cases started to spike.
However, as of Friday, the community has decided it felt safe enough to take down the checkpoint again, just as Campbellton moves back into the yellow phase to join the rest of New Brunswick. The Zone 5 health region saw stricter prevention controls re-imposed following the outbreak.
Listuguj shut down their band offices on March 18 and were operating at 20 per cent capacity with essential staff only.
Gray said the community also had non-essential businesses close as well as preventive measures to decrease exposure to the virus. Those businesses have been allowed to reopen Friday as well.
“Businesses are open, the checkpoints are down, but we’ve been sure to say throughout the most important thing is individuals, you and I as a community members, taking the necessary steps to keep everyone safe,” Gray said.
Under the Atlantic travel bubble, Listuguj will remain excluded because of the border restrictions in place.
Gray said the community has adapted to shop and work with businesses in Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, though some Campbellton businesses advocate welcoming Listuguj and other neighbouring municipalities into the bubble.
“There’s more and more businesses that are reaching out to Listuguj, to people in Listuguj and expressing very openly the desire to be able to find a solution,” Gray said. “But my understanding is that they’re getting the same response I am.”
‘Everything is in Campbellton’
Brad Mann, chairman of the local services district, said travel between the two sides will continue to be limited, but he hopes the Quebec communities will be able to access essential services closer to them in Campbellton, such as grocery stores, banks, family doctors and the hospital.
“Those communities go as one community,” Mann said.
He said people from Listuguj First Nation, Point-à-la-Croix, Escuminac, Matapédia — small riverside communities in Quebec that stretch about 20 kilometres from the bridge to Campbellton — account for upwards of 40 per cent of Campbellton-area business.
“Everything is in Campbellton that these people use,” he said. “They’re left with one grocery store on the other side of the bridge.”
Mann said Quebec customers account for 34 per cent of credit card transactions at area businesses.
Listuguj band elections were postponed because of COVID-19 as well. Originally scheduled for the first week of June, they will now be held in the first week of November.
Gray said it may have been a blessing in disguise for the current climate.
“I’m happy that there’s some continuity, there’s some consistency,” Gray said.
“We have the same chief, same council and we’re familiar with working with each other and I think better prepared to deal with the situations that have been presented to us rather than, you know, a new chief and a new council trying to figure out how to work together in addition to dealing with COVID what it brings on a daily basis.”
The community just held its annual day of remembrance of the salmon raids of 1981, which is called Migwite’tm, or remember.
Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, Gray said they were done a bit differently this year.
“We started with more of an online presence asking people to send us or post pictures of them fishing,” Gray said. “Let’s celebrate the fact that we’ve maintained that right and we continue to do so, to go out there and fish for salmon.”
The community had to postpone the planned firework show for Migwite’tm but eventually was able to have them Thursday night.
“It created a bit of a positive feeling in the community,” Gray said.