As I was saying, there is a major difference between what Indigenous communities are doing and what non-Indigenous communities are doing. There is the issue of health, of course. In addition, the number of people per dwelling in Indigenous communities is much higher than in non-Indigenous communities, which makes it difficult to observe physical distancing measures.
We must also remember that First Nations were particularly scarred by past epidemics, which resulted in cultural and psychological trauma that still exists to this day.
The main point in my presentation today is the separate management of Indigenous communities, which is founded on the right to self-government. The recognition of this concept is being questioned during this pandemic. I have observed that the crisis has made it very clear how difficult it is for governments to recognize the status of entities, otherwise known as band councils, as governments. To illustrate this, I will cite three examples of First Nations in Quebec.
The first example involves the situation that has garnered the most media attention in recent weeks, namely the reopening of Oka Park. The park is the Quebec government's responsibility, but it is located on the unceded territory of the Mohawk Nation. It was declared open without consulting the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake authorities.
The Mohawks decided to keep the park closed by setting up an impromptu road block. It was on the fête des Patriotes holiday, around mid-May. A conflict ensued between the Mohawk Council and the provincial government, forcing the federal government to step in.
This example clearly shows that government authorities do not have the reflex to consult First Nations leaders when they make decisions that affect so-called unceded territories, which, by the way, also includes a great deal of Quebec land. We see no consultation even when the land is in the middle of a territorial negotiation process, as is the case for the Mohawks of Kanesatake, in the Oka region.
The other two examples received less media attention, despite the efforts of Indigenous authorities to attract it. They illustrate the extent to which government services are still caught in the colonial stranglehold of the Indian Act.
Like many other First Nations, Long Point in Abitibi locked down its community and attempted to impose strict travel restrictions on its members. Because Long Point has no police force, it called upon the provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec. Though it is regularly patrolled by police officers, they say they do not have the authority to enforce the First Nations measures. Why? Because the community in the village of Winneway is not officially a reserve under the Indian Act.
Even though it has been recognized since at least 1996, when the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was released, that self-government is an inherent Indigenous right protected under section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982, and even though the federal government recognizes councils as First Nations governments in theory, we are still far from that recognition in practice.
The third example concerns a nation located in the Gaspé Peninsula.