British Columbia

'Abysmal attempt': B.C. wildfire response criticized by Indigenous leader

"They had processes in places for our cattle but none for Nlaka'pamux people," said one community member.

B.C. village was flattened after wildfires took hold Wednesday evening

Residents of Lytton, B.C., watched on as their community went up in flames on June 30, 2021. (Edith Loring Kuhanga/Facebook)

An Indigenous leader accused British Columbia's government Saturday of ignoring the needs of community members in Lytton while a wildfire levelled their village earlier in the week.

The accusations came as the BC Coroners Service said it was finally safe to enter the community to investigate reports that two people were killed in the blaze, which destroyed businesses and homes as it cascaded through the village days earlier.

The head of the Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council, of which the Lytton First Nation is a member, said that as the fire tore through the area, the council was forced to try to save lives with little to no help from the government.

Chief Matt Pasco said the tribal council was forced to try to save lives with little to no help from the government.

Pasco, who operates a ranch near Ashcroft, B.C., north of Lytton, said the first contact he received from the government came 12 hours after evacuations began, and it was regarding his cattle, not about affected community members.

"It was an abysmal attempt at the very thing they're meant to do," he said in an interview Saturday. "They had processes in places for our cattle but none for Nlaka'pamux people."

Communication 'didn't live up to expectations'

Pasco said the government's shortfalls can be traced to the province's treatment of Indigenous peoples and lack of recognition of their jurisdiction when it comes to land management and stewardship.

"Yes, we do have coordination problems because (the province) is not set to take care of Indigenous issues or Indigenous peoples," he said.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth acknowledged the government's shortcomings in a statement.

A motorist watches from a pullout on the Trans-Canada Highway as a wildfire burns on the side of a mountain in Lytton, B.C., Thursday, July 1, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

"While there were challenging factors, early communication with the Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council and the Oregon Jack Creek Band didn't live up to expectations," he said.

He said the ministry has taken steps to address gaps in protocols that contributed to this situation. Pasco said the tribal council is working with the Lytton First Nation and other affected communities to figure out how many members remain unaccounted for.

'It's hard to fathom'

He said the most pressing questions concern what happens next for the community.

"It's so devastating that I cannot find the English words to describe the devastation. It's hard to fathom," he said.

"What does next week look like? What does the first long weekend of September look like when we have the children go back to school?"

New mapping from the BC Wildfire Service shows the wildfire has grown since Friday night.

Kaitlin Baskerville, with the BC Wildfire Service, told a public meeting Saturday that current conditions are comparable to mid-August.

She said there are four fires of note in the Thompson-Nicola region.

Mark Healey, also with the service, told the meeting that fire crews are working to stop the spread of the fire towards Spences Bridge as well as stop it from crossing the Fraser River.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Wells is a writer with The Canadian Press.

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