VICTORIA -- The Council of the Haida Nation is investigating after one of its flags was found desecrated on Thursday.

Fisheries Guardians were doing a routine patrol near Naden Harbour, Sk’aaws in Needan Gawee, when they were alarmed to find a Haida Nation flag flying upside down.

“The flag was removed and eyes cut out and flown upside down,” said Old Massett resident Cynthia Samuels. “This is our identity.”

When she received a call about the flag being vandalized she was shocked, but not surprised, she said.

“I wondered if it would stay intact at the place … never did I think they would do that to our nation like that,” she said.

The desecrated flag was found where the matriarchs, known as Gaandlee Guu Jaaland or “daughters of the river” were occupying their land.

Back in July, matriarchs occupied two ancient villages after two fishing lodges decided to reopen despite objects and concerns from the First Nation.

They said they were concerned that non-residents will expose local people to COVID-19, and with only two ventilators on Haida Gwaii, an outbreak would be devastating.

The vice-president of sales and corporate development for Queen Charlotte Lodge said the business was fully complying with the orders and guidelines issued by the B.C. government, health authorities and WorkSafeBC.

Tensions rose on the waters of Haida Gwaii when a lodge boat crossed the paths of some of the Haida Nation vessels. Then, at the end of July, the B.C government restricted travel to Haida Gwaii in response to the 20 confirmed cases on the islands.

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth used powers granted to him by the provincial state of emergency to restrict travel by non-residents to the archipelago while maintaining the availability of essential goods and services for island residents.

"Our foremost concern is the health and safety of all residents of Haida Gwaii, and we're working together to limit further spread of COVID-19,” said Farnworth at the time.

All of the 20 cases are believed to be related to residents who travelled off-island or had contact with someone who did.

On Saturday, a staff member at the lodge said they’ve been made aware of the damaged flag.

“We have no knowledge of who could have done that,” said Craig Wensel. “It is not an action QCL would ever condone from any staff member. To our knowledge, no staff member has participated in vandalizing any flags.”

Wensel said the lodge had to close quickly when travel restrictions were imposed, and most staff flew home at the end of July.

“We found on at 4 o’clock on a Thursday and we had 88 guests booked for Friday morning,” said Wensel. “It’s been a really tough season all along.”

Currently, Samuels said, there is only one active case of COVID-19 on the island.

Since the flag was found, it has been removed. The Council of the Haida Nation is looking for anyone who saw what happened to contact them.