Land guardians in a remote territory more than 1,700 kilometres north of Vancouver not only patrol Tahltan Territory but continue to blockade access points.
The Tahltan Central Government (TCG) held true to their words in stepping up the enforcement of a non-essential travel ban by blocking access to more than a dozen roads over the past few weeks in an effort to keep non-residents out.
TCG president Chad Norman Day believes they had no choice but to block access to the roads and the Stikine River Bridge area commonly used by visitors and hunters on jet boats.
He said despite industrial development occurring within the territory which has greatly contributed to B.C.’s economic growth, medical services and infrastructure remains critically limited.
“I wish it was never necessary in the first place, and we certainly gave the province,the BC Wildlife Federation and other stakeholders plenty of notice that our position had always been consistent—that we didn’t want an influx of further visitors to Tahltan Territory and I’m still very disappointed in the response,” Day said.
Hunting and fishing were declared an essential service by the B.C. government in late April —a move that the BC Wildlife Federation (BCWF) considers ‘great news.’
The BCWF said while they support the request for hunters to stay away from small communities, they believe that hunting can be conducted in a safe manner in remote parts of the province where little or no contact will be made with people outside of the hunters’ immediate group or bubble.
“We do not support restrictions for entire “traditional territories,” especially restrictions that specifically target hunters,” stated BCWF wildlife committee chair Gerry Paille in an emailed statement, adding the BCWF has a record of working with First Nations on improving wildlife and habitat for wildlife in Tahltan, Tŝilhqot’in and other First Nations’ traditional territories.
Day estimates the TGC has spent more than $200,000 for better medevac support and ensuring the closure of the access roads which will be monitored by Tahltan guardians and gatekeepers as well as video surveillance.
“Our leadership understands now more than ever that these lack of services and infrastructure and resources put our people at risk, and I think the COVID-19 circumstances have really emphasized some of the structural problems that we’ve had for way too long, and the province’s response to things around the hunting season, the medevac issues, and other problems like the lack of a pharmacy for example — we’re not going to tolerate it anymore,” he said.
Day said he personally and the Tahltan Central Government have been the targets of racist and threatening messages on social media because of the blockades.
The BCWF said they have received some emails and phone calls expressing concerns about the situation in Region 6.
“The BC Wildlife Federation does not entertain or condone racist actions and promotes respectful and well-informed dialogue with all,” Paille said.
A spokesperson with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said they ask anyone who is looking to recreate, including hunting and fishing, to do their research before they leave home, respect the wishes of local communities and follow local travel advisories and guidance.
“While hunting was declared an essential service, this in practice refers to hunting locally for food cultivation to support sustenance harvest opportunities,” the spokesperson said.
“Travelling to hunt is considered recreational and therefore is non-essential.”