The B.C. Government’s proclamation allowing visitors to now travel within the province is not sitting well with several First Nations who maintain Indigenous lives are being put at risk.
The Heiltsuk, Tsilhqot’in and Nuu-chah-nulth Nations have pledged to support each other’s efforts to restrict travel in their respective territories until safety conditions are met, according to a news release issued June 24.
President of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council in Port Alberni, Dr. Judith Sayers said they have not given their consent to open up the province.
“We will do what we need to in order to protect our people, and if there is an impasse, we need to talk,” she stated. “For us, it is people before economics.”
Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation (Bella Bella) Marilyn Slett said they are still waiting for basic safety measures and information sharing while B.C. moves into Phase 3 of opening the province to travel and tourism.
Those measures, Sayers and Slett said, include the sharing of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases to Indigenous governments, screening non-residents and providing culturally-safe contract tracing teams.
Because there are only two rapid testing kits for B.C. Indigenous communities, Sayers and Slett added rapid testing must also be prioritized for Indigenous and remote communities.
In B.C.’s central Interior west of Williams Lake, Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse said the Tsilhqot’in National Government supports the positions taken by Nuu-chah-nulth and Heiltsuk.
“We have also restricted access to our communities to varying degrees throughout this crisis,” Alphonse noted.
“Our priority is to protect our elders and our people, and this work is made much more difficult by B.C.’s refusal to provide case information sharing, screening, rapid testing and culturally-safe contact tracing. Our nations will stand together to keep our people and communities safe.”
By law, international travellers returning to B.C. continue to be required to self-isolate for 14 days and complete a self-isolation plan.