Bella Coola’s COVID-19 checkpoint on Highway 20 has been in place for almost three months, imposed by the Nuxalk Nation. Haida Gwaii and Bella Bella on the B.C. coast have extended their travel restriction checkpoints to May 31. Tahltan, Nisga’a and Nakazdli Whut’en in the north have essential-only entry.
Tofino and Ucluelet saw checkpoints in March from the Tla-o-qui-at First Nation to back up the message of other communities reluctant to resume welcoming visitors. Those communities along with Port Renfrew, the popular fishing village on Vancouver Island, are preparing to welcome tourists back as province-wide pandemic restrictions ease.
As Premier John Horgan promotes tourism within B.C. for the summer of the pandemic, the blunt message to some tourists to turn around is acceptable, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says. She urged people to support B.C.’s tourism-reliant businesses and communities, but only if invited.
“The only caveat I have is that we have many communities, small communities, particularly our First Nations communities, who have understandably a greater degree of risk and loss that could happen if this virus was introduced in those communities,” Henry said at her daily briefing May 23. “So I would leave it to them to determine whether it is safe for people to travel to their communities and it is their – it’s up to them to determine when they’re ready for that, if at all, this summer. And it may be that some areas will not be appropriate for us to visit unless we’re invited in.”
In a year marked by other kinds of roadblocks directed at the Coastal Gaslink pipeline and resource projects in general, Henry’s avoidance of describing a “right” to Indigenous territorial claims is prudent. Henry, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth are responsible for COVID-19 public health restrictions, including directing police and other officials to enforce them.
At the same time, federal and provincial governments have been reluctant to challenge any Indigenous assertion, including the Ontario Provincial Police declining to enforce a court order clearing the CN Rail system of Mohawk blockades in support of a handful of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing Coastal Gaslink.