A B.C. First Nations chief is contemplating the removal of tree planters from his community following a 14-day lockdown which was lifted at 8 a.m. on Friday, May 8.
Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse who is also the tribal chair of the Tsilhqot’in National Government said he was alarmed by the behavior he witnessed two days before his community’s lockdown ended.
“Originally we laid down all of the conditions that we wanted to see before tree planters came into our territory including self isolation and not attending and being at local stores, and they said they would meet all of those conditions but when I was out in the community on Wednesday I didn’t see that from the tree planting company so I’ve grown a little bit concerned.”
Alphonse said if what he saw continues throughout the weekend, he will be prepared come Monday, May 11 to ask the tree planting companies to leave their territory and escort them out.
Although the lockdown, which was the first for Tl’etinqox, and second for Xeni Gwe’tin, is no longer in effect, Alphonse said visitors are asked to continue to stay away.
He will be meeting with leadership, staff, and security on May 11 to determine the next steps following the lockdown due to COVID-19, which Alphonse described as a stressful situation in which people’s anxiety went up, people turned to their addictions and were triggered by reminders of what it was like to be in residential school.
“We often took the brunt of that, our staff and people manning our gates, so we were extremely proud of our workers and how they handled them,” he said.
“This was a good run for us and we learned a lot and we will continue to learn a lot and we will come up with a more thorough plan. If we have to go in this situation again we’re going to be much, much more prepared and we will know all of the challenges we have and that we can’t rely on anybody; we have to do this as a community and a community alone without help from the RCMP.”
In the long-term Alphonse said they need to form their own police force.
As food supplies had dwindled for members and families during the lockdown, he said they did everything they could to assist and had people who acted as designated runners for anyone needing food and medical supplies.
Lockdowns were implemented at Tl’etinqox and Xeni Gwet’in on April 24 after it was learned a Tsilhqot’in member who was released from a Lower Mainland correctional insitution and stopped in to visit family at Tl’etinqox had later tested positive.
They have since recovered.
“We’re not completely out of the woods yet,” Alphonse said, calling the B.C.’s government four phase restart plan as too early and the COVID-19 pandemic far from over.
“But as far as my community goes I think we’re really grateful that nobody else has tested positive. The lockdown was a huge learning experience.”