A road blockade, by the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation, across Hwy 16 restricting traffic to and from Prince Rupert, Port Edward and Terrace may occur as early as this week, according to Garry Reece, Mayor of Lax Kw’alaams.
The portion of highway proposed to be blocked is located at Salvus, on the Prince Rupert side of Kasiks, roughly 60 kilometres west of Terrace.
The highway there passes through a small section of Lax Kw’alaams reserve land and the province has now confirmed it has no tenure for that passage.
The action is apparently born out of the Lax Kw’alaams’ frustration with the lack of response from the Province to restrict out-of-area visitors to First Nations communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Tsimshian Nation is preparing our own actions to protect our members and the people living in our territories. Lax Kw’alaams has reserve lands that cross Highway 16 between Terrace and Prince Rupert and we are preparing to create a checkpoint to monitor and enact travel restrictions. We cannot let this virus come into our community, there is just too much at risk for our people.” Reece stated.
The joint press release was issued by the First Nations and municipal leaders from the North and Central coasts on April 30, and subsequently posted on Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain’s, Facebook page.
There’s no indication of exactly what traffic heading east of Port Edward and Prince Rupert to Terrace and what traffic travelling to the coastal communities will be blockaded.
But the Province has said that in other locations, “the RCMP has worked with First Nations to support checkpoints informing travelers that the Nation is closed to non-essential travel.”
“The province is supporting First Nations’ measures to restrict non-essential travel within First Nations communities, including supplying roadside signage,” the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure added in a release sent to The Northern View.
In a May 3 webinar hosted by the Council of Haida Nations, Reece said it was his intention to protect his members by stopping non-essential visitors to Prince Rupert.
“We’ve been in lockdown for a while. A lot of our people are unhappy. A lot of complaints. People are not following guidelines, (they are) having problems with that.
“I think we’ll make a decision, if we’re going to get a meeting with the Premier, which I’m hoping we do and voice those concerns with him to not allow visitors into Prince Rupert,” he said.
“We have a lot of band members that live in Rupert. I think we have over a 1,000 band members with a lot of elders. We need to protect them.
“If we are going to do this blockade and stop people, that’s going to take us leaving our community here. I want to be talking to some of my councillors tomorrow to discuss that. If that’s the action we’re going to have to take, to go on blockade (we need to) leave our community to do that. I’m pretty sure my councilors will be in full support.
Brain told The Northern View that negotiations were key to preventing a blockade of Prince Rupert and did not have jurisdiction to prevent such a blockade.
“The City continues to encourage dialogue between all parties to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone in the region. First Nations communities in our region have requested to speak with the Premier first and I believe that is a positive indication that proactive communication may help alleviate some of the concerns on the ground,” Brain said.
“As the Province looks to ease restrictions, the City is in a legal obligation to follow all public health orders and we will continue to abide by those within our jurisdiction.”
Lax Kw’alaams, an island community, accessible only by ferry, already has in place active travel restrictions to and from the island.
The current restrictions for Lax Kw’alaams residents include, ferry reservations made by 1 p.m. on the day before sailing, which will be reviewed by a team of health care and administration professionals for approval. Ferry personnel do have the authority to deny access to passengers and barricades are being placed on Tuck Inlet Road to prevent after-hour traffic and water taxis must receive clearance to drop off any passengers or materials.
“We have witnessed a handful of individuals who blatantly lie in order to gain entry into the community. The health care and administrative team will be recommending to council that these people be refused residency by BCR [Band Council Resolution], until such time as the crisis is over or until the violator publicly apologizes to the community.
“Enough is enough,” Reece said.
Why the checkpoint is planned at Salvus, a non-residential area, and potentially causing disruption to local communities other than Lax Kw’alaams, with local precautions already in place, remains unclear. Inquiries made by The Northern View to Lax Kw’alaams and Reece have not been returned
“As Dr. Bonnie Henry has said, First Nations have the ability and the authority to take measures to restrict non-essential travel into their communities as protection against the pandemic. The provincial government is communicating with all involved to make sure that any checkpoint set up on Highway 16 be calm and safe for everyone, and that the highway stay open for essential travel and emergency services,” Jennifer Rice, MLA for North Coast said. “All of us should do our part to help keep small communities safe by not undertaking non-essential travel ourselves for the time being.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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