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Column: First Nations’ ban on visitors will force smokers, drivers to pay taxes to support recovery

From link to article by Jane Sims, March 31 2020

In tough times like these, explain how this makes any sense.

Before Oneida Nation of the Thames shut down all its entrances to non-residents Sunday night, Chief Jessica Hill said the line-ups into the First Nation community southwest of London for illegal cigarettes, cheap gas and cheap marijuana were as long as the eye could see.

In the midst of recommendations to stay home and practice social distancing, folks flocked to the black market smoke shacks for their fixes to avoid paying federal and provincial taxes.

Taxes that go to funding things such as, you know, our overburdened health care system that’s heroically trying to fight a global pandemic. Or to government coffers stretched to the max, trying to ensure we all get out of this mess intact.

“I couldn’t see the end. . . . And it was at every entrance. And in the community, they were all lined up at various stores,” Hill said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s essential services order didn’t cut off the supply of smokes, gas and pot.

While smoking is a terrible addiction and everyone loves a bargain, in case you haven’t been paying attention, COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease that requires limiting social contact to stop the spread.

Smokers, in particular, are at risk because COVID-19 attacks the respiratory system.

So are the people of Oneida and the other Indigenous communities in the province. The virus isn’t picky about who spreads it and who it attacks.

And that’s why the decision by Hill’s band council – and five other Ontario First Nation bands – to keep visitors out should be applauded.

“There’s just too many people who come here and we wanted to make sure our people were safe,” she said.

There’s the elders, some of whom are the last remaining Oneida language speakers. There’s the high percentage of people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer who might not be able to fight off the virus.

And there’s the children. Seventy per cent of Oneida’s population is younger than 30.  Many live in poverty, in small overcrowded homes. “You really can’t self-isolate when you have too many people around,” Hill said.

The last thing the community needs on top of chronic social problems is a never-ending stream of outsiders. Now that the tap has been shut off, Hill said they have to deal with helping the community ride out this pandemic.

“We’re low on supplies like everyone else,” she said, adding that personal protection equipment is in short supply for necessary essential services. Also, there are some food security issues and a lack of meat and produce. Hill said the community is delivering food to seniors by driving it up to the homes and leaving it outside.

There’s dealing with the isolation factors in a largely rural community. Gatherings are the pulse of the place. And right now, Hill said, people can’t gather.

“Closing down has a huge impact on everyone,” she said. Her advice has been “take a deep breath and stay home.”

“I’m really proud of my community,” she said. “I’m hoping everybody is going into this with the same kindness of spirit that we are trying to spread here.”

Hill is leading by example. She’s been at home for two weeks after attending an Assembly of First Nations event in Toronto where someone later tested positive for the virus.

She knows business owners will be taking a financial hit, but “they’ve been able to make great revenues all along and I think a little break is good.”

While this may be a disappointment for the black-market customers, perhaps they can shop locally and understand that their taxable purchases may help save lives. No one is asking them to stop smoking and gas already is cheaper than it’s been in years. Really, keep spending money and help ease the tax burden.

Smoke ’em, if you’ve got ’em. And if you don’t have them, buy them at the local store.

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