Chief Jimmy Lulua and other community members from the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation enjoy a paddle in their beautiful backyard. (Chief Jimmy Lulua photo)

B.C. First Nation hopes to offer new visitor experiences in 2021

Travellers reminded to check for updates on access to Title Lands if visiting this summer

Travellers planning to visit the Xeni Gwet’in Caretaker area west of Williams Lake this summer should make sure they have sufficient fuel and food, and the ability to repair their own vehicles.

Xeni Gwet’in First Nation has closed some of its operations in a bid of keeping the highly contagious novel coronavirus at bay.

Read More: Efforts by B.C. First Nations to keep COVID-19 rates low are working, says health officials

“We welcome for people to come to our community as long as they follow COVID-19 restrictions and rules but for us nothing has changed,” Chief Jimmy Lulua said noting there remains no cure for the virus which has put at least half of his community at unease.

“Some feel it’s not that bad but some are going ‘just look at the United States for example —they’re not doing very well.’”

While people are welcome to visit the campgrounds and lodges in the area, the gas station, tire repair, laundry and convenience store are closed to non-residents.

The free wifi hot spot at the gas station has also been turned off to discourage gatherings of people.

“These are extremely challenging times for all of us,” Lulua said a press release. “We are asking all travellers to respect our request and if they would like to visit our lands, to be fully self-contained at this time and to have no contact with our members in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”

The gate has come down twice for the remote community that has experienced two 14-day lockdowns.

Read More: Xeni Gwet’in First Nation head into second 14-day lockdown to protect from COVID-19

Lulua has previously stated two generations of their people could succumb if the community experiences an outbreak of the potentially deadly disease.

He said the lockdowns helped train his community on the seriousness an exposure could cause.

“We’ve always been good at isolating,” Lulua added. “This is nothing new for us, but also the other part is when we closed our gate we didn’t ask anybody. It was safety for our community which comes first and trumps any law —we showed our jurisdictions.”

Despite these uncertain times, the news release noted Xeni Gwet’in leadership are actively pursing the development of several new visitor experiences they hope to launch in the spring of 2021.

Xeni Gwet’in plans to offer authentic Indigenous cultural interpretation as part of multi-night packages that will include cabin stays, meals and outdoor activities after the Tsilhqot’in Nation was able to acquire two tourism ventures (Yohetta Wilderness Adventure Lodge and Elkin Creek Ranch) operating on Title Lands last year.

Read More: MLA, B.C. ranchers call for seats at table in ongoing Aboriginal declared title land discussions

“Indigenous cultural experiences truly distinguish the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, British Columbia and Canada from any other destinations in the world,” stated President and CEO of Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association, Amy Thacker.

“It will be very exciting to have a new market-ready Indigenous experience to offer travellers visiting Tsilhqot’in Title Lands in 2021.”

Lulua said they have hired a marketer and will be later seeking to hire a lodge manager.

“We have less than a year to do a market plan so I think all the funds have been lined up and now we’re just starting to go through the process,” he said “We’re pretty excited about it.”

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