Anglers from Alberta and parts of B.C. will be fishing the waters off of Haida Gwaii this weekend, joined by local Indigenous people who are disappointed that two luxury resorts have welcomed wealthy mainlanders to the rugged archipelago.
The two lodges are operating in defiance of the Haida Nation’s ongoing ban on tourism amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, owners of two lodges opened their lucrative fishing seasons, saying they are respecting provincial health and workplace guidelines and not endangering the local community by flying workers and guests in and out of their remote sites.
Members of the Haida Nation say these businesses are disobeying the local state of emergency that bans such tourism, something the other operators across the group of islands off British Columbia‘s West Coast have agreed not to do.
Spokesperson Adeana Young said a group of Haida people will be camping out this weekend at two traditional villages less than 10 kilometres away from one of these resorts, the Queen Charlotte Lodge, to harvest dungeness crab, halibut and coho and spring salmon.
She said her group will not seek conflict with the lodge’s 78 guests that arrived Friday for four days of fishing, but hopes these tourists see how their arrival has disappointed the local Indigenous population.
“He’s negotiating his profit margin, we’re negotiating our safety,” Ms. Young said of Paul Clough, the owner of the lodge.
Mr. Clough told The Globe and Mail that he has instructed his employees to avoid the Haida-helmed boats this weekend and said he had tried to work with the Haida Nation to revise his reopening plans but ultimately came to a fundamental disagreement. Quarantine provisions also mean no guests from the United States will be able to visit the lodge before its season ends on Aug. 31, he said.
“We have freehold land and with freehold land comes its own certain rights, too,” Mr. Clough said. “We don’t want to cause any problems with the Haida community."
Mr. Clough said last Saturday that a convoy of 30 of his fishing vessels was briefly stopped from making the multi-hour journey to the lodge by local boaters who tried to blockade the ships. He said there was no damage to any boats, but he reported the incident to the local RCMP to investigate. The RCMP did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
First Nations in several parts of B.C. have expressed concern about the province easing health restrictions aimed at containing the virus. Premier John Horgan has reminded travellers that some communities are not prepared to welcome tourists because of COVID-19.
In April, Haida Nation president Jason Alsop told The Globe that the more stringent restrictions – including a travel ban on anyone other than residents and essential workers – were essential to protect local residents, including Indigenous elders who are among the last fluent speakers of the Haida language.
Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations & Reconciliation, was unavailable for an interview Friday. However, his office e-mailed a statement saying that the provincial government is discussing options with the Haida Nation to enact further measures that could reopen the island to tourism.
“We understand that the lodges have developed safety plans in line with WorkSafe BC guidelines and based on that, we encourage Haida Nation and the lodge operators to work together, to reach a resolution through dialogue and sharing information,” the statement said.
Last month, the First Nations Health Authority reported that it had recorded 87 cases of COVID-19 and four deaths since January, which is below the rate of the provincial average.
The West Coast Fishing Club, the other lodge, released a statement Friday stating that it had reopened as well. The resort said it could guarantee that it has spent the time and money to eliminate any contact from its employees or guests with the local population.
With a report from The Canadian Press
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