Chief Councilor of the Metlakatla First Nations, Harold Leighton, said he is disappointed with the lack of response to three letters sent by local First Nations requesting a meeting with Premier John Horgan to discuss concerns around COVID-19.

No road blockade for holiday weekend

Local First Nations are disappointed with lack of response from the government

A road checkpoint across reserve lands on Hwy 16, proposed by Lax Kw’alaams and supported by the Metlakatla First Nations, did not appear over the Victoria Day holiday weekend.

It is, however, part of a three-phased-plan to action further precautions against the transmission of COVID-19 into First Nations communities, Harold Leighton, Chief of Metlakatla First Nation told the The Northern View.

Leighton said there is disappointment with the inaction by the government to supply more support to First Nations communities, like Metlakatla, during the coronavirus pandemic.

They have faced many challenges from receiving equipment like necessary masks to dock and boat patrols. They feel they have just been left on their own, he said.

READ MORE: Road blockade may be actioned if Government continues lack of action

After three letters to Premier John Horgan’s office, two of which were sent jointly from the Coastal First Nations under the Haida Nations lead, and the third from Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams together, there has been no response to the First Nations request for a meeting with the Premier to discuss concerns.

“We don’t really get much support. We haven’t had really any support from either B.C. or Canada. There’s been a small amount of funds that went to Metlakatla. That’s all that we’ve seen. You know, we wanted support to help keep either our own members or others from from travelling to Metlakatla and we didn’t get any response to that. So, we set up on our own. We did everything we had to in terms of instructions from the province. We’ve been pretty good that way, but it’s been really one sided,” Leighton said.

“It is disappointing. We take this very seriously with the virus that’s going around. We don’t want to see it coming into our community, or into Prince Rupert. We have a lot of elders in Rupert,” Garry Reece mayor of Lax Kw’alaams said.

With more than 1,000 band members living in Prince Rupert and 3,500 in Lax Kw’alaams the potential for carrying the virus into the communities is just more than they can afford, Reece said. The Metlakatla community has a population of 100 residents, with 700 members living in Prince Rupert.

Reece said they are asking for the support of both the B.C. and Alberta governments.

“We’re asking them specifically to not allow visitors coming into our area…,” Reece said. “When you look around Rupert you see all these sporty’s [anglers] from out of province…That shouldn’t be allowed. They should be staying in their own areas. It’s only going to take one person to spread it around. That’s the scary part.”

“We’re really disappointed, and the two main areas that we’re disappointed with is, the province has decided that recreation fishing was going to be an essential service and so that basically opened up the river for recreational fisherman. And they did that without talking to Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams…” Chief Leighton said.

“The other thing is we see that the camp grounds are being used and are going to be opened up. We had absolutely no consultation there and we should…Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams should have. It’s really disappointing when you see that happen. …we’re doing this for the safety of everyone, just not for Metlakatla members. It’s everyone that we work with, everyone that we deal in the North Coast and even the region,” Leighton said.

READ MORE: Relaxed restrictions for Lax Kw’alaams after road block warning

The requests for a meeting the Premier were part of the first stage of the plan.

Reece said deadlines and time limits have not yet been set for moving to the next phase of the plan and he is hoping to hear from the Premier’s office soon.

Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla will meet next week to discuss the momentum moving forward and the second-phase road check point across Hwy 16, which they foresee as politely asking vehicles to stop and providing occupants information.

“If they are not from here…we’d ask them, politely, if they would please go home.We are concerned about not only our members, our elders, but everyone on the North Coast here,” Leighton said.

Reece said they felt they had to give notice of the check point and possible future blockade. The Nations are not looking to restrict the movement of residents of the Northwest or impact the movement of goods or economic activity.

“We felt we had to give notice. Just because if some people are going to be turning around, if we are going to be doing that, I think they are not going to be so happy, because they are already travelling. So, we need to get some notice out,” Reece said.

The location of any information checkpoint or blockade to non-essential travel would be along Highway 16 on Lax Kw’alaams IR 26 Reserve, on the Prince Rupert side of Kasiks, roughly 60 kilometres west of Terrace at Salvus.

K-J Millar | Journalist
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