Hesquiaht Harbour. (Hesquiaht First Nation)

Hesquiaht Harbour. (Hesquiaht First Nation)

Visitors and non-residents entering closed remote B.C. First Nation’s territories

With limited resources, they say they don’t have any authority or power to enforce the closures

  • Aug. 6, 2020 3:30 p.m.

By Melissa Renwick, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Ha-shilth-sa

As Haida Gwaii grapples with a COVID-19 outbreak, some Nuu-chah-nulth communities fear a similar fate.

Despite closing their borders to visitors, Hesquiaht community members living in Hot Springs Cove have witnessed a steady flow of non-residents entering their territory on private boats.

“They are here on a daily basis — from day break to evening,” said Bernard Charleson, Hesquiaht emergency co-ordinator. “It’s just another way that the virus is going to get into the community. They do come to the village and they do tie up at the dock. On occasion, they will walk into the village when there’s nobody around to stop them.”

With limited resources, Charleson said that he doesn’t have any authority or power to enforce the closures.

“We have very limited man-power and we don’t have anything on paper,” he said.

There is a massive gap in funding for First Nations communities to continue their battle against the coronavirus, said Mariah Charleson, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council vice-president.

“To date, our First Nations communities have far exceeded the money that they were provided by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) in response to COVID-19,” she said. “There’s no money at all available to support these check points and monitoring which have been instrumental in keeping our communities safe.”

According to Mariah, each Nuu-chah-nulth nation received $50,000 in funding, which was adjusted for remoteness and community well-being index scores.

The initial funding provided to the nations did not take into account the total number of band members, but rather, only those living on-reserve based on the 2016 census, said Mariah.

It was up to each nation to decide how they would spend their funding based on their own unique circumstances.

“For some nations, they didn’t care that it was only based on on-reserve numbers,” said Mariah. “Some nations sent out their fishermen immediately and they distributed food to all of their members.”

ALSO READ: Fishing lodge ‘shocked’ by B.C. ban on travel to Haida Gwaii

ISC said that they are aware of the ongoing concerns of First Nations about the influx of visitors entering their territories.

“Our role is to support communities in doing what best suits their needs,” ISC said in an email statement. “That is why we provided immediate support through the distinctions-based Indigenous Community Support Fund so First Nation, Inuit and Metis communities can address their specific needs as they prepare for and react to the spread of COVID-19.”

ISC recently updated the funding guidelines for COVID-related public health response funding, which now includes perimeter security to control the risk of transmission and PPE for essential workers outside of health functions.

Mariah’s father, Stephen, lives in Hesquiaht Harbour. Every few days, he approaches boat operators to inform them that the territory is closed. With each encounter, he is met with a mixed response.

“My father went to respectfully let a boat operator and his wife know that our Hesquiaht Ḥahuułi was entirely closed to non-residents,” Mariah recounted over email. “One of them stated to my father that that only applied to the land and not the water. That couldn’t be farther from the truth and who we are as Nuu-chah-nulth people. The ocean has always been our highway and source of livelihood — since time immemorial.”

As frustrations mount over the lack of monitoring support from BC Parks, Mariah said that visitors are showing no sign of slowing down.

“BC Parks staff have a large geographical area of responsibility that covers over two dozen provincial parks and protected areas,” wrote BC Parks in an email. “The frequency of patrols of parks and protected areas within Hesquiaht territory varies, but observations from park ranger staff over the past several weeks indicates general compliance with the current park .125and.375 protected area closures and lower levels of recreational use in the Clayoquot Sound area.”

As non-residents travel into the closed territories, Mariah said they are not considering the possibility of an accident.

“When people are traveling out, they think that they’re all safe and they’re far from any communities,” she said. “If anything is to happen, like a motor breaking down or somebody injuring themselves on the boat, it takes up a huge chunk of our resources, which are already very limited on the west coast.”

Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, said he recently met with senior health officials and community leaders from the First Nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island to discuss solutions to these issues.

“We agreed to continue to work collaboratively to build confidence and ensure protections for vulnerable community members as we move forward with the restart plan,” he stated in an email. “For all of us, people’s health and safety is our top priority, and we continue to believe the best way forward is through dialogue.”

With 146 new COVID-19 cases reported in B.C. since Friday, “the threat of the second wave is becoming more and more real every day,” said Mariah on Tuesday, Aug. 4.

Lisa Sabbas, Hesquiaht council secretary, echoed that sentiment by saying, “it’s not if it’s going to come, it’s when it’s going to come.”

With BC Day long weekend behind us, Mariah said that it is an extremely vulnerable time for the Nuu-chah-nulth communities.

“Something that I’m continuously wondering and asking myself is, ‘do people not understand that our rural and remote communities do not have the capacity to handle .125an.375 outbreak if it were to happen?”’ she said. “It’s a real concern.”


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusIndigenousTourism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sidney Jon Blair said he would have died if a van and car had collided at the intersection of corner of Resthaven Drive and Brethour Avenue in early December. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney senior urges motorists to slow down on Resthaven Drive

Jon Blair said community must become more pedestrian-friendly

Bob Joseph, author of 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, will be available for a Q&A through the Vancouver Island Regional Library Jan. 28. (Courtesy of Vancouver Island Regional Library)
Q&A on the Indian Act with Bob Joseph open to Greater Victoria residents

Bob Joseph is the author of 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act

Tarpaulin-covered tents sit next to one of the ponds in Beacon Hill Park. The location of the Meegan community care tent has still not been nailed down, as Victoria council rejected the recommendation offered by city staff. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Location of care tent for Victoria’s Beacon Hill campers still not settled

Council roundly rejects Avalon Road site, road’s edge on Cook Street appears the top alternative

Coaches with the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey association have had to get creative during their weekly practices to keep players interested and improving their skills without physical contact. (Damian Kowalewich photo)
West Shore minor hockey coach shares what it’s like on the ice without parents, fans

Most practices consist of relay races, goalie shots and passing drills

The Songhees Wellness Centre is a symbol of First Nations strength in the region. Representatives of local First Nations will soon play a greater role in decision making and governance relating to the Capital Regional District. (Courtesy Royal Roads University)
Capital Regional District to add First Nations representatives to advisory committees

Board approves bylaw, looks forward to Indigenous input on future decisions

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

(Black Press Media file photo)
From arts to environment, nominate your West Shore hero

Nominations for the Goldstream Gazette’s Local Hero awards are open to Jan. 15

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

Everett Bumstead (centre) and his crew share a picture from a tree planting location in Sayward on Vancouver Island from when they were filming for ‘One Million Trees’ last year. Photo courtesy, Everett Bumstead.
The tree-planting life on Vancouver Island featured in new documentary

Everett Bumstead brings forth the technicalities, psychology and politics of the tree planting industry in his movie

Most Read