Nuxalk elected and hereditary leadership have jointly issued a statement announcing a community lockdown due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 effective April 27, 2020. The statement reads that “as of Monday, April 27, all travel to and from Bella Coola is banned until further notice…this does not include essential services.”
Elected chief Wally Webber and hereditary chief Mike Tallio said on Nuxalk Radio Tuesday, April 28, that the intention of the community lockdown is to prevent the entry of COVID-19 into the valley, as it could have devastating effects on the entire valley’s elderly population, reiterating that there are only three fluent Nuxalk speakers left. They confirmed that non-essential traffic and visitors will be turned away, and that hereditary leaders will be on site to physically enforce the lockdown.
“We have a constitutional right to protect our elders and our language,” said Webber. “If this virus gets here you will understand why we are doing this.”
On April 25 the virus did reach the small, remote community of Alert Bay where it took the life of a Namgis’ First Nations elder. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called the grim news a “tragedy for all of us.”
“Our elders, in particular in our First Nations communities, are culture and history keepers,” she said. “When they become ill and when they die, we all lose.”
When questioned about the lockdown North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, said that First Nations have the “ability and the authority” to limit travel into their communities.
“As Dr. Henry said this week, First Nations have the ability and the authority to make decisions about limiting non-essential travel into their communities,” said Rice “As long as emergency services and essential supplies are able to enter communities for those who need them, and residents are able to undertake any necessary travel and to return home, then efforts made to limit non-essential travel into the Bella Coola Valley should not have to be enforcing anything more than what people everywhere in B.C. are already expected to be doing themselves.
“There is no reason for anyone anywhere in B.C. to be undertaking non-essential travel at this time, especially if that travel could be putting a small community at risk. Dr. Henry, our provincial government, and the federal government have been clear about this- and importantly, it is what people in B.C. expect of each other right now.”
Of particular concern to leadership is the opening of the commercial and recreational fisheries in Area 8, which will attract potentially dozens of people to the region, something Webber says our small community and facilities simply cannot handle.
“With Area 8 open we could see up to 150 boats coming into our wharf,” Webber explained. “It only takes one person to bring it in.”
Coast Mountain News reached out to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for comment but did not receive a reply.
Tallio, himself a commercial fisherman, says he feels for the industry and understands the demands, but that right now the health of the community is paramount.
“I feel for the people who are involved with this industry but we are not trying to hurt anyone,” Tallio said. “We are doing this to protect our nation.”
Webber confirmed the Nation has started the process of seeking an injunction to reverse the opening and they are also seeking advice on the legal ramifications of enforcing the lockdown.
“This is very serious and we need everyone’s help to keep this virus out,” said Webber. “Our people didn’t see smallpox coming but we can see this; we will never allow something like that to happen again.”