British Columbia·Video

Tensions between B.C. fishing lodges, Haida Nation escalate over COVID-19

RCMP in northwest B.C. say they will review video of a confrontation on the water near Haida Gwaii between members of the Haida Nation and staff of a local fishing lodge. 

Video shows tense exchange between fishing groups after vessels allegedly pass too close

A still from an edited video circulated by a group of Haida matriarchs on Sunday, showing a confrontation between First Nations' members and staff from Queen Charlotte Lodge. (Submitted by Haida Nation)

RCMP in northwest B.C. say they will review video of a confrontation on the water near Haida Gwaii between members of the Haida Nation and staff of a local fishing lodge. 

The video appears to show some five vessels from the Queen Charlotte Lodge passing too close to a pair of smaller Haida boats, leading to a tense verbal exchange.

Tensions have been rising on Haida Gwaii since the luxury fishing lodge, which is on the northernmost island of the archipelago, reopened despite a state of emergency in the Haida Nation because of COVID-19.

Locals are trying to ensure that the coronavirus does not spread in their remote community, where there are limited health services. 

The Haida Nation, the Old Massett Village Council and the Skidegate Band Council have asked non-essential travellers not to visit the area.

The incident is thought to have occurred on Friday, and the edited video was posted on Facebook by a group of Haida matriarchs known as Gaandlee Guu Jaalang, or "Daughters of the Rivers," on Sunday.

WATCH | Edited and captioned clips of confrontation off Haida Gwaii:

Video provided to CBC by the Haida group Gaandlee Guu Jaalang shows edited and captioned clips of a tense interaction between Haida boats and Queen Charlotte Lodge fishing vessels. 2:52

Gaandlee Guu Jaalang member Adeana Young says the video illustrates how fishing lodges view the Haida people as an inconvenience, and put profit over safety

She says Haida people are in the waters near Queen Charlotte Lodge to catch fish.

"It's a matter of reminding our people that this is our inherent right that we've always had," said Young. "To harvest our traditional food and occupy our unceded lands and waters."

Queen Charlotte Lodge vice-president Brian Clive said members of the Haida Nation have been fishing near the lodge most days since the opening, and employees make sure they pass safely.

Clive said he has seen the video and, in his view, the lodge's boats were not too close. 

He said he understands why some people are frustrated by the tours but said the lodge is following all provincial guidelines. 

"We fly our guests from Prince Rupert to the shore of Naden Harbour," Clive said. "We do not touch any community in Haida Gwaii." 

Tourism is currently allowed under the third stage of B.C.'s pandemic recovery plan. Another lodge, the West Coast Fishing Club, has also reopened to clients from B.C. and elsewhere in Canada.

Both lodges say they have measures in place to avoid contact with locals and have evacuation plans should a client become ill.

The RCMP detachment in Masset, B.C., say they will seek to review all video that was collected of the incident, will speak with both parties and consult with Transport Canada to determine if any regulations were contravened.

RCMP say both sides want a peaceful resolution.

WATCH | B.C. MP asks tourism minister what she's doing to help outfitters, lodge owners:

B.C. Conservative Bob Zimmer questioned Tourism Minister Melanie Joly in question period Monday. 1:13

'As protective as we can'

Haida Nation president Gaagwiis Jason Alsop reiterated on Sunday why extra precautions are needed to protect the islands' roughly 4,500 residents.

"We only have the two ventilators, and obviously we also have a significant population of elders on Haida Gwaii and we just want to be as protective as we can," he said.

He said that fishing lodges in Haida Gwaii should not reopen and should abide by state-of-emergency guidelines, which prohibit non-essential visitors.

"It's considered a disrespectful act to push ahead and breach those measures," said Alsop. 

On Friday, officials with the Haida Nation said there was a self-reported case of COVID-19 from a resident.

The bulletin said there were also reports from community members who said they may have had coronavirus exposure and were self-isolating.

To date, there have been 68 cases of COVID-19 in the Northern Health Authority in B.C., which includes Haida Gwaii. 

Queen Charlotte Lodge is a 20-acre luxury fishing resort on the western shore of Naden Harbour on Haida Gwaii. (Queen Charlotte Lodge/Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0)

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