Rethink restricting Hwy 540, 551 traffic, M’Chigeeng member and businesswoman urges chief, council

Petition urging reconsideration circulating in M’Chigeeng First Nation

MANITOULIN – Our focus as Manitoulin Islanders has shifted—from battling COVID-19 as a united front to an ‘us versus them’ mentality—and this worries Lisa Addison, a M’Chigeeng band member, a great deal.

Besides being a proud M’Chigeeng band member, Ms. Addison also owns BJ’s and Addison’s OK Tire in that community with her husband. As a businesswoman, Ms. Addison decided to begin a petition that is currently circulating in M’Chigeeng and that calls on Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige and council to revisit the band council resolution that enacted the non-essential travel order (which came into effect last Saturday, April 25) and “redirect funding and personnel from barricades on Highway 540, 551 and Cross Hill Road in order to provide enhanced health care training to elders and all age groups within the community; to educate the community to adequately protect themselves from the spread of the virus (supply and educate members on how to use masks, gloves, social distancing, cleaning etc.); and to provide training to businesses to allow them to function in a safe manner in order to control the spread of the virus.”

While the non-essential travel order did make allowances for people travelling to access BJ’s and Addison’s, an essential service as deemed by the province, Ms. Addison said she is hearing from customers from across the Island who are being turned away by those running the highway checkpoints.

“If they come to a checkpoint and they say they’re going to BJ’s and Addison’s, they shouldn’t be denied,” she told The Expositor in a Monday interview, noting that besides tires and car repairs, the shop also deals in items like chainsaw blades and lawnmower parts—things that many Islanders require. She said BJ’s and Addison’s has enacted strict health and safety protocols since March Break in their attempts to stave off COVID-19.

Ms. Addison is careful to say that she wishes to encourage chief and council in a positive way to do the right thing and re-think the travel order, suggesting the checkpoints be moved to the side streets in the community, such as has been done in Aundeck Omni Kaning, Sheguiandah and Whitefish River First Nations.

“It has turned into something that is not right,” Ms. Addison continued.

“I live in Silver Water,” she noted. “I’m hearing from the people of Silver Water who have been denied access after coming home from a medical appointment and who don’t know the backroads to get home.”

“We’re now at a point that it’s taken away from what we’re supposed to be focussing on—the virus,” Ms. Addison said.

Ms. Addison said she’s happy to count Ogimaa-kwe Debassige as a friend and applauds her efforts. “She has worked her butt off to not only help the people of her community, but all of Manitoulin and she’s really taking a lot of flak right now.”

Ms. Addison said the petition is garnering good support from the community and she hopes to present it to chief and council at its next meeting, likely this week.

“We need to focus on COVID-19 in a healthy way, respecting everyone’s rights,” she added, citing worries that tensions could possibly erupt into violence at the checkpoints.

Ms. Addison urges everyone, politicians and residents alike, to focus on the task at hand—battling COVID-19 and not one another.