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Do COVID-19 rules apply on reserve? Golf course may test the question

Couchiching First Nation, which owns the Heron Landing golf course, asserts provincial regulations don't apply on reserve.
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A golf course located on Couchiching First Nation may test whether provincial COVID-19 restrictions apply on reserve.

COUCHICHING FIRST NATION, Ont. - A golf course located on Couchiching First Nation, near Fort Frances, may test the question of whether provincial COVID-19 restrictions apply on reserves.

The Heron Landing golf course, located just north of Fort Frances on Couchiching territory, has announced on social media it is now "open to band members and local area."

A representative for the Couchiching band, which owns the course, would not confirm the opening when reached Monday, but told Tbnewswatch provincial COVID-19 restrictions do not apply on reserve.

A provincial emergency order that bars golf courses, as non-essential businesses, from opening was recently extended to June 2. A representative for Ontario's Minister of Indigenous Affairs said the province encourages Indigenous leaders and business owners to review provincial guidelines, but would not say whether the government believes its emergency order applies on reserve.

Dennis McPherson, a former chair of Lakehead University's Indigenous Learning department and lawyer, as well as a Couchiching member, said he didn't believe that order binds First Nations.

McPherson says the Federal Emergency Management Act takes precedence over provincial regulations. The act makes the federal government responsible for ensuring First Nations have access to "emergency management services comparable to those available to provincial residents."

"This being the case, I would argue any application of the provincial declaration on Indian reserves is outside of provincial jurisdiction," McPherson said. "I would argue that the Couchiching chief and council have a free hand to open the Heron Landing Golf Course at their discretion, regardless of a date set by the province."

The Couchiching First Nation has not yet responded to requests for comment.