Isolated in the vast wilderness of northwestern B.C., the Tahltan Nation is stepping up enforcement of its non-essential travel ban.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tahltan Central Government (TCG) has been asking everyone — including hunters and their own off-territory people — to refrain from travelling into their territory as the nearest hospital is approximately 600 kilometres away.
In a press release this morning, the TCG announced it will now be blocking hunting and recreational activity access points with gates, which will be monitored, including with video surveillance.
The territory includes the Tahltan communities of Dease Lake, Iskut and Telegraph Creek.
Tahltan Central Government president Chad Norman Day said until the province works with the Nation to ensure that people can be properly medevaced in the case of a medical emergency, more people shouldn’t be allowed into the territory.
“One of those issues became real just a couple of weeks ago, which really scared us,” Day said.
When a medevac could not fly into Dease Lake in a timely manner to transport an elder who had broken a leg at a fish camp, Day said the elder’s family hastily drove through the night to Prince Rupert so the elder could have emergency surgery in the morning.
“This kind of thing actually happens quite often, unfortunately,” he said, noting there is no capacity to medevac more than one person at a time, and there is no functional pharmacy in the territory.
With Highway 37 being a corridor into Alaska and attracting large amounts of traffic from British Columbians, Yukoners, Alaskans and Americans, Day added a COVID-19 outbreak could spell disaster in the territory because of its limited medical capacity.
“It’s been a bit disappointing. There’s been a lot of our own urban members that have been coming into the territory as well that we respectfully asked not to do, but we don’t have the enforcement capabilities to do much else other than the local governments deciding to put up gates and that’s their prerogative.”
Day said the shutdown will impact up to 12 access points, and that there would have been more had it not been for natural events including the devastating 2018 wildfires around Telegraph Creek that burned some bridges that would normally be used by Tahltan, resident hunters and industry. Recreational activities are strongly discouraged north of Bob Quinn, including hunting regions 6-19 to 6-26, he noted.
The Klappan Road has also been washed out by the Klappan River and landslides.
Day said the TCG is working with the province to get additional RCMP and conservation officer support.
The Tahltan territory will be patrolled by the TCG’s wildlife department and guardians, who will be asking all visitors to follow appropriate procedures or leave if they choose to ignore the advisory prohibiting travel to visitors.