An information checkpoint, a potential Hwy 16 blockade, and a meeting with B.C. Premier John Horgan are among the top priorities for the Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla First Nations.
In a joint statement to ban non-essential travel to isolated regions, Garry Reece, mayor of Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla Chief Harold Leighton have demanded a meeting with Horgan and are suggesting the implementation of an information checkpoint on Hwy 16 between Prince Rupert and Terrace.
“The Nations are urgently requesting a meeting with Premier Horgan to discuss banning non-essential travel and ask that both the B.C. and Alberta governments take a more active role in educating the public of the risks recreational visits pose to First Nations communities during COVID-19,” the joint press release from Reece and Leighton stated.
“To protect our community, we are considering setting up an information checkpoint on Lax Kw’alaams reserve on Highway 16 as early as next week,” Reece stated.
With the May holiday long weekend just days away, it also signals the start of the recreational fishing season, which attracts many visitors from other communities and out-of-province — mainly from Alberta.
British Columbia has begun Phase 2 of the B.C Restart Plan from the coronavirus pandemic, which is relaxing some restrictions, but heightening concerns for local First Nations.
“Our goal would be to educate people on why they need to stay in their own communities rather than entering Prince Rupert area unless absolutely necessary. Later, if needed, we may also set up a blockade of non-essential travel,” Reece stated.
As previously reported in The Northern View, Lax Kw’alaams eased travel restrictions for their residents directly into and from the community, on May 11.
This was just days after Reece issued a statement that a “road blockade” may be placed across a small sections of Hwy 16, at Salvus between Terrace and Prince Rupert to curtail non-essential traffic from entering the community.
“The Government of B.C. has simply asked the public to stay local. We want them to tell people they must stay away. We are telling visitors to stay away and may even have to demand it to keep our communities safe,” Reece said.
“More isolated First Nations communities such as ours are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of this pandemic — one of many we have suffered through historically—as are the many members of both our nations who now live in Prince Rupert.”
Both Leighton and Reece stated that they are not looking to restrict the movement of residents of the Northwest or impact the movement of goods or economic activity.
“As leaders, we cannot not stand by as our people are exposed to the risks of COVID-19 coming into the community through non-essential travel,” Leighton said. “We encourage Premier Horgan to respond to our meeting requests and work collaboratively with us on solutions to help keep our community safe from COVID-19.”
Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams also requested that further measures be enacted.
“When issuing freshwater fishing licences, that the Government of B.C. provide information telling people to stay local and not travel to other regions to fish. Licences should not be issued to people outside of the region.
“The Province assist the Nations in asking the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans not to issue saltwater fishing licences for the region to people living outside of the region.
“Government consider providing additional health care resources to ensure that both the local hospital and the region are better equipped to manage potential COVID-19 cases,” Leighton and Reece stated in the press release.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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