Billings council supports request for flow through traffic to be allowed on highways

KAGAWONG – Billings Township council supports a call to allow traffic to flow directly through M’Chigeeng First Nation on Highways 540 and 551 with travellers not stopping in the community, while also supporting the First Nation’s efforts in trying to maintain the safety of its residents from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This letter came about on May 4 with the proposal initiated by Ken Noland, reeve of Burpee and Mills Township. He had a conversation with Central Manitoulin Mayor Richard Stephens, myself, Gore Bay Mayor Dan Osborne, Gordon/Barrie Island Reeve Lee Hayden and representatives of Robinson and Dawson townships,” said Billings Mayor Ian Anderson at a council meeting last week. 

The letter, which was sent to M’Chigeeng First Nation Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige and council, relates to the non-essential travel ban that was put into effect by the latter council on April 25.

“Central and Western Manitoulin (the municipal councils of Central Manitoulin, Billings, Gore Bay, Gordon/Barrie Island, Burpee and Mills, as well as representatives of the unorganized townships of Dawson and Robinson) unanimously support M’Chigeeng First Nation’s efforts to protect their residents from the threatening spread of COVID-19 virus,” the letter reads. 

However, “your non-essential travel ban is a serious cause of concern for our communities. We respectfully request that M’Chigeeng First Nation council revisits this decision in consideration of amending your band council resolution to permit traffic to flow directly through M’Chigeeng via Highway 540 and Highway 551. Your revised non-essential travel ban could be applied to all exists off Highway 540 and Highway 551. Your revised non-essential travel ban could be applied to all exists off Highway 540 and 551, with restricted access to essential services operating within your community. This revision would then mirror First Nation initiatives within the Manitoulin Island District, with highways connecting to other communities,” the letter explains.

“With non-residents of M’Chigeeng First Nation driving directly through your community, your objective of protecting your residents from COVID-19 would be achieved,” the politicians’ letter continues. “We anticipate continued positive dialogue between our municipalities and your First Nation in this fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and other mutual concerns. Our councils respectfully subject this request for your consideration.”

Mayor Anderson said he supports the letter and the request the mayors/reeves have made.

“I support the letter,” said Councillor Sharon Alkenbrack, “and I understand the reason why M’Chigeeng is doing what it is. They are looking after protecting the residents in their community. It is important we all realize this.” 

Councillor Sharon Jackson said after reading the letter she agrees with the comments made by both Mayor Anderson and Councillor Alkenbrack. “It is our responsibility and obligation to make sure our citizens in Billings are safe. And the M’Chigeeng chief and council have the same goal for the citizens in their community, and I support them,” Councillor Jackson said. “I think it is a reasonable request to allow for the flow of traffic directly through (M’Chigeeng) on Highway 540 and Highway 551.”

“I certainly support their (M’Chigeeng) initiatives to try and keep the residents in their community safe,” said Councillor Bryan Barker. “I agree they could look at mirroring other First Nations and allow direct passage on the highways and block community access roads.”

Councillor Michael Hunt agreed that M’Chigeeng has to look after the protection of their own citizens and also indicated he is in favour of the letter of request for traffic to be allowed to flow through the community on the highways.