An image of the 2017 Hanceville-Riske Creek Fire. -BC Wildfire Service
The Tsilhqot’in Nation say they remain disappointed that they were not included in an independent flood and wildfire review which released its’ report last week.
Tribal Chairman Chief Joe Alphonse and his community became the center of a political storm last summer by becoming the first First Nation in Canada to not adhere to an evacuation order.
“It exposed government at every level weaknesses in their policies, and yet there isn’t even a mention of us in there,” says Alphonse.
“I think it was also disrespectful by the company, by the independent reviewers, they never got in touch with us in any way. They tried to get a hold of us through a third party but that’s not officially how you do business-no email, no fax, no letters.”
Alphonse adds although there are some areas of the report and it’s 108 recommendations that they can support, at the end of the day we have to look at the other larger issues and what good is it if they are not recognized and consulted.
“It’s disappointing, and for myself an indication that what happened during the fires, the lack of respect, the lack of recognition, lack of knowledge and support for First Nations just wasn’t there. For them to conduct the review, in the same manner, tells me that there absolutely is no hope or desire that they want concrete change to improve the situation.”
The BC Flood and Wildfire Review was co-chaired by Hereditary Chief of the Skawahlook First Nation Maureen Chapman and former provincial cabinet minister and MLA George Abbott who gathered over a 3-month period public feedback through online engagement, written submissions, and open houses in 8 communities including Williams Lake.
Individual Tsilhqot’in communities and the Tsilhqhot’in Nation are currently developing their own Wildfire Reports which are hoped to be completed by the end of this summer.
Alphonse notes that much of their territory has to be rehabilitated and that a number of roads that were created because of the fires and the fireguards will need a hard look at if they should be deactivated for the upcoming hunting season. He adds that they will be setting up headquarters on the top of Lee’s Corner Hill at the old sawmill site to monitor mushroom picking throughout the season and asks everyone to be courteous and respectful.
“I guarantee you if we were recognized and allowed to manage the fires the way we felt they should be the Chilcotin, the Hanceville, the Plateau fires wouldn’t have gotten as large as they had,” says Alphonse.
“As a result of the lack recognition, most of our communities are still in a desperate situation because of the fires.”