First Nations near Tofino, Ucluelet keeping borders closed as B.C. eases travel restrictions
VICTORIA -- Indigenous leaders from three B.C. First Nations groups say that their borders will remain closed amid the pandemic, as B.C. officially enters Phase 3 of its restart plan – which involves easing travel restrictions within the province.
Leaders from the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, Heiltsuk Nation and Tsilhqot’in National Government say that visitors will not be allowed to travel into their territories until the provincial government takes action to support their COVID-19 safety measures.
The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, which represents 14 First Nations on Vancouver Island – including areas near popular tourist destinations like Tofino, Ucluelet and Pacific Rim National Park – says it plans to restrict entry to most of the island’s west coast until it feels COVID-19 safety measures are being met.
“The Premier cannot forget our free, prior and informed consent over our territories, and that we have not given our consent to open up the province,” said Judith Sayers, president of the Nuuchah-nulth Tribal Council in a release Wednesday.
“We will do what we need to in order to protect our people, and if there is an impasse, we need to talk. For us, it is people before economics,” she said.
The Heiltsuk Nation and Tsilhqot’in National Government say they support the island group’s position.
The Indigenous leaders say that the B.C. government needs to help First Nations across the province with COVID-19 information sharing, visitor screening, COVID-19 testing and “culturally-safe” contact tracing.
According to the three First Nations groups, just two rapid testing kits are available for all Indigenous communities across B.C.
“While the government moves to open the entire province to travel and tourism, we are still waiting for basic safety measures and information sharing,” said Marilyn Slett, chief councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation.
“This means we cannot make informed decisions about the level or type of emergency measures to enact, and so the safest approach becomes blanket travel bans.”
The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, Heiltsuk Nation and Tsilhqot’in National Government say that Indigenous communities that they represent have all activated travel advisories, bans and checkpoints near their borders.