Leah LaPlante is in no hurry to reopen the Manitoba Metis Federation’s office in Brandon, despite the province's plans to loosen restrictions even further this month.
The office includes a 32-space daycare and a large bingo hall.
As vice-president of the federation’s Southwest Region, she manages all those spaces and is responsible for the people in them. COVID-19 saw the shutdown of both the bingo hall and the daycare. LaPlante also locked up the office doors, with some staff working there while observing pandemic protocols, and one working from home.
"My biggest concern right now is how do you open the 32-space daycare and have those little people social distancing? It can't happen. It won't happen. So I'm in no hurry to get that opened," LaPlante said.
"How do you take a bingo hall and put your bingo players six feet apart across a three-foot table? Six feet apart, and make enough money to pay your staff? It just can't happen."
LaPlante perused the province’s Phase 3 draft for restoring services in the province, released Thursday.
"Myself and my staff are really not in a hurry to open," she said. "You know, when you are the one that is meeting people face to face, you’re not quite as comfortable maybe as (Premier Brian) Pallister."
At a COVID-19 update after Pallister released the proposed draft for Phase 3, Manitoba's chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said as the government loosens restrictions, these are not directives for any business or individual to do anything.
"So we may see some businesses not opening up immediately. We may see some businesses not moving to the full allowable capacity, and that’s fine," he said.
He also stressed observing familiar protocols, such as hand hygiene and physical distancing.
The federation has had to make other adjustments during the pandemic.
"For natural resources, in a normal year when everything is operating as it should, our harvesters get their new CPF (conservation trust fund) sticker and then they get their tags for big game," said LaPlante, who is also the federation's minister of natural resources and minister of citizenship.
"All of the other things that we do under harvesting, like for birds, fishing, picking mushrooms, berries, getting wood, all of that is what you have privilege to with your CTF sticker," she said.
That process has been mostly moved online and the date for renewal, April 1, has been extended to July 15. July 16 is when big-game hunting – deer, moose, elk and bear – begins.
"The only thing that requires special tags are big game, as we watch those more closely," LaPlante said.
For those who don’t have access to the online services or a printer, LaPlante has placed folders outside the locked office door for picking up the necessary package and dropping it off.
"The instructions are all there. They have to do their normal thing. They do a survey on what they've harvested from the previous year. Then they check off what tags they want this year, pay the fee and then we will mail them their new sticker and their tags," she said.
"It seems to be going well."
LaPlante said it's been learning experience.
"What COVID is doing to us, actually, it shows that there are a lot of things that we have been doing that we can do over the telephone and behind closed doors. Maybe not as easy for the citizens, but it's working. We're making it work."
» Michele LeTourneau covers Indigenous matters for The Brandon Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.
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