Vancouver Island First Nation urges people to avoid travel to their territory due to COVID-19 concerns

Vancouver Island First Nation urges people to avoid travel to their territory due to COVID-19 concerns
WatchHesquiaht First Nation says boaters keep arriving on their shores, visiting places like Hot Springs Cove, when it's not necessary. They say they are afraid one of them will bring COVID-19

A remote First Nation on Vancouver Island says despite their efforts to keep visitors away during the pandemic, guests continue to show up on their shores.

Hot Springs Cove has long been one of the popular attractions for tourists visiting the Tofino area.

But because it’s located inside Maquinna Provincial Park, it has been closed due to COVID-19.

It’s also part of the traditional territories of the Hesquiaht First Nation, a remote First Nation located about 55 kilometres away by boat from Tofino in the Clayoquot Sound, that is among those asking people to stay away during the pandemic.

“Hesquiaht band council and NTC [Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council] and with Ahousaht have closed the territory down to all non-essential travel,” said Bernard Charleson, Hesquiaht’s emergency coordinator.

“People don’t really need to be coming into the territory. We have no services right now. Everything is shut down.”

RELATED: Nuu-chah-nulth want tourists to avoid Vancouver Island’s west coast

Two months ago, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, which represents 12 First Nations including Hesquiaht, said they wanted tourists to stay away during the pandemic unless a number of conditions were met. Those conditions included improved contract tracing and COVID-19 testing being readily available on their lands.

“We want to protect our people. People are more important than economics,” Judith Sayers, President of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council said in an interview with CHEK in June.

The council also recently met with government and health officials including Dr. Bonnie Henry to discuss the issues. The province said in a statement that the two sides agreed to work “collaboratively” and that the best way forward is through continued dialogue.

Yet despite the Nuu-chah-nulth and Hesquiaht’s pleas to stay away and signs warning that Maquinna Provincial Park is closed, Charleson says people in boats continue to arrive on their shores. He also says people who have arrived are posting their experiences on social media, which is only adding to the problem.

“With social media, everyone takes pictures and posts it and little things like ‘Wish you were here’ and come back with ‘We’ll be there next week thank you,’ and it just sends out the wrong message,” said Charleson.

Tourism Tofino also has a posting on their website informing potential tourists that Hot Springs Cove and other popular spots around the region are closed.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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