COVID-19: Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council calls for protection of health, safety of its members before tourists descend on western Vancouver Island

The Indigenous territories include Tofino, Ucluelet, and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

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      As tourism slowly starts to reopen in B.C., the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) is calling for the health and safety of its people to be guaranteed by the provincial and federal governments amid the COVID-19 pandemic before people start flocking to its traditional territories on western Vancouver Island.

      The Nuu-chah-nulth’s H?ahuu?i, or territories, encompass 300 kilometres and include Tofino, Ucluelet, and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The Tribal Council supports 14 Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations in three regions with approximately 10,000 members.

      The NTC recently passed a motion to protect its members from COVID-19, prohibiting visitors on its territories until certain conditions are met.

      “As Nuu-chah-nulth, we must take extraordinary measures, that go far above and beyond Provincial and Federal Health guidelines, to protect our communities and members from this devastating disease-COVID-19,” Tribal Council vice president Mariah Charleson said in a June 9 release.

      Directors emphasized that the health, safety, and well-being of its people take priority over economics. The call extends to the U.S. border, with leaders referring to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that Indigenous individuals have an equal right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

      Judith Sayers, a member of the Hupacasath First Nation, is president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.
      Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

      “Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council strongly opposes the opening of the Canada border for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and until Nuu-chah-nulth leaders advise otherwise,” NTC president Judith Sayers said. “The risk is simply too high and we are not willing to put the health of our members to the side simply to benefit the economy. The health and well-being of all Nuu-chah-nulth-aht will continue to be the priority as BC begins to Re-Open.”

      The conditions of the motion include having efficient COVID-19 testing in place for all 14 First Nations; implementing a screening system for non-residents and establishing contact tracing so members will be aware of any exposure; and forming communication protocols among NTC First Nations and health authorities for swift reporting of suspected or confirmed cases on their territory.

      “Only when each Nuu-chah-Nulth Nation determines that all conditions are fulfilled and their consent given, can the federal and provincial governments open up recreation and other non-essential economic activities within the Nuu-chah-nulth Ḥahuułi,” the release stated.

      Disctrict of Tofino mayor Josie Osborne and District of Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noël issued a joint release on June 13 saying that although the NTC statement appears directed to federal and provincial governments, they have a responsibility to respond to the NTC’s motion.

      “It is incumbent on local governments and communities to think of how the NTC statement applies to us, to initiate dialogue, and to respond accordingly,” Osborne and Noël said. “We recognize and acknowledge the concerns of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and that Indigenous people and communities are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19. Health, safety and well-being of the region’s residents remains our top priority.

      “In this time of a global conversation about race, culture, and reconciliation, we ask you all to continue the difficult and important conversations about reconciliation and Covid-19 recovery that are taking place in Tofino and Ucluelet,” they said.