The Bella Coola valley and the whole province are going through difficult times.
COVID-19 has tested the resiliency of our communities in an unprecedented manner. While our communities stood up to face the crisis and succeeded in flattening the curve together, the public health emergency has brought additional challenges, including a major hit to our economy and new questions on how to keep our communities safe going forward.
Over the past few weeks, I have been hearing from constituents in the Bella Coola Valley about their concerns with the Nuxalk checkpoint on Highway 20. Many people, especially those working in the tourism sector worry that this checkpoint is putting their businesses and livelihood at risk.
I am writing to the community today to let you know that myself and the Provincial government have heard your concerns and we are working towards resolving the situation in a manner that meets the needs of all community members.
This is not an easy issue to resolve and it will take us all working together and understanding each other to come to a solution.
The checkpoint and restrictions were put in place by the Nuxalk Nation with the best interest of the entire community in mind. We need to remember that First Nations peoples have already suffered the effects of multiple pandemics since colonization began, many of which decimated entire communities.
This experience, combined with the fact that people living in First Nations and remote communities suffer from many of the risk factors associated with COVID-19 complications and mortality, have made many communities hesitant to allow visitors into their community.
The Nuxalk are not the only community that have imposed extra restrictions in their region. Bella Bella, Haida Gwaii, Port Hardy, and even the entire Northwest Territories and the Yukon have all put in place similar restrictions for visitors.
At the same time, we need to recognize these restrictions are putting the livelihoods of many people, both indigenous and non-indigenous, at risk. As the province gets ready to enter Phase 3 of B.C.’s restart plan and reopen the Province to internal travel, many tourism operators are hoping to welcome visitors for the summer to save their business and their livelihood.
I have heard from many of you who are worried the travel restrictions put in place by the Nuxalk will put you out of business and I am working on a resolution.
I am working with the Nuxalk Nation, the Bella Coola Valley Tourism Association, Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association, the Central Coast Regional District, BC Parks and various government Ministries on finding solutions.
I know this situation has sparked tensions in the valley. During this time, however, it’s important that we heed the words of public health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry – to be calm, to be kind and to be safe.
We can’t let this crisis divide us. We will find a resolution together.
Jennifer Rice MLA North Coast