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'Haida Gwaii is closed': Matriarchs occupy territory as fishing lodges reopen amid COVID-19

Last Updated Jul 12, 2020 at 1:08 am PDT

FILE -- A photo of Queen Charlotte Lodge (Courtesy Facebook/Queen Charlotte Lodge)

A spokesperson says visitors to the fishing lodges move through the community, leaving a 'trail of risk' in their wake

Haida Gwaii declared a state of Emergency on March 23, with a ban on visitors; leaders say this has not been lifted

Two fishing lodges reopened this weekend, while five others remain shuttered for the season

HAIDA GWAII (NEWS 1130) — Members of the Haida Nation are asserting their right to occupy their lands and harvest food, while “affirming the message that Haida Gwaii is closed.”

The Gaandlee Guu Jaalang, or “daughters of the rivers,” issued a statement Friday asking fishing lodges to “reconsider opening during our local state of emergency, as with our limited medical resources, one case would devastate our community.”

Spokesperson Adeana Young says visitors to the fishing lodges move through the community, leaving a “trail of risk” in their wake.

“I just really want the message to be known that we coexisted with each other all these years, since they’ve opened,” she says. “We can continue to coexist once it’s safe — once we feel it’s safe — for visitors to enjoy the beauty that we have here.”


Posted by G̲aandlee Guu Jaalang on Saturday, July 11, 2020


The lodges’ popularity with American tourists in light of the recent spike in U.S. cases is a cause for concern, according to Young.

“We really feel like now is not the time because looking at the statistics of COVID in other areas, and looking forward at borders opening, looking at how the curve is flattening — we don’t feel like it’s flat enough. I don’t feel like it’s flat enough to open up. The risks are really high, especially in the United States,” she says.

The “occupation” led by matriarchs is focussed on food security and involves Haida men and women who are fishing and harvesting.

“We harvest our foods on Haida Gwaii and this food security sustains us. We are asserting our rights by occupying our territory. Today, we invited our boat operators to supply food fish for our community and they are out there now. A fish camp is set up at Sk’awats, and another will be set up at Kung,” the statement from Gaandlee Guu Jaalan reads.

Young says the efforts to keep lodges closed will persist as long as the community believes its safety is at risk

“There’s no strong intention to kick them out or keep them away forever, the intention is to keep us safe and ensure that we have food security for our community members.”

RELATED: Haida Gwaii fishing lodge plans reopening as tensions boil over with Nation 

Haida Gwaii declared a state of Emergency on March 23, and the Council of the Haida Nation says it remains in effect along with a ban on recreational travel.

“Respecting Haida authority and jurisdiction, many local and off-Island businesses and operations are abiding by the Haida Gwaii SOE. As the COVID-19 global pandemic emerged, several sport fishing lodges made the choice to cease operations this year. The Council of the Haida Nation commends this respectful act made by Langara Island Lodge, Peregrine Lodge, Naden Lodge, Escott Sportfishing Lodge, and Queen Charlotte Safaris,” reads a statement

“There are, though, a select few sportfishing lodges planning to resume service this year. The Haida Nation’s current state of emergency does not permit any non-essential travel to Haida Gwaii, including the operation of fishing lodges, at this time.”

The statement notes Dr. Bonnie Henry supports Indigenous communities’ right to limit travel to their territory, even as the province reopens.

“There are a number of First Nations communities who have expressed that they are not ready to and that their paramount focus right now is on protecting their communities and particularly their Elders in their communities and we are very supportive of that,” Henry said on June 25, the day after Phase 3 started and recreational travel in B.C. was allowed to resume.

“I do understand that many First Nations communities are not ready to have visitors and I absolutely support them in those decisions.”

The Queen Charlotte Lodge and West Coast Fishing Club are the two resorts which have reopened.

On its website, the Queen Charlotte Lodge says they have made changes to see to the safety of visitors and residents of Haida Gwaii.

“All of our transportation this summer will be via direct fights between Prince Rupert and Naden Harbour.  We have taken this extreme measure to ensure the safety and security of all the citizens of Haida Gwaii. In compliance with provincial regulations we’ve implemented protocols throughout the property to ensure everyone’s health and safety this summer,” the statement reads.

West Coast Fishing Club does not appear to have updated its website since the pandemic began.

With files from Paul James