British Columbia

Tensions rise as big-game hunters enter Tahltan Nation territory despite quarantine

The Tahltan Nation is setting up checkpoints at 40 access points to its large northwestern territory to keep out hunters and the threat of COVID-19. 

40 checkpoints now set up to keep out hunters and threat of COVID-19

A Tahltan wildlife guardian at an access checkpoint. (Facebook/Tahltan Central Government)

The Tahltan Nation is setting up checkpoints at 40 access points to its large northwestern territory to keep out hunters and the threat of COVID-19. 

Chad Day, the president of the Tahltan Central Government, says some hunters are ignoring pandemic restrictions since big-game season began last week.

"We've received a lot of threats and racist comments," Day told CBC's Daybreak North. "These people have been from all across British Columbia."

Tahltan wildlife guardians are now setting up gates, concrete blocks and round-the-clock surveillance at access checkpoints. Most are placed along Highway 37, the main road connecting northwest B.C. communities like Dease Lake. 

"It's about keeping our people safe. I just think that a lot of people believe they have a right to put Tahltan people at risk just for the sake of a hunting trip," said Day.

"It's unfortunate, it's shameful and it's extremely counterproductive to the long term reconciliation that we hope to achieve as a Tahltan Nation with other British Columbians."

LISTEN | Chad Day talks about hunters entering Tahltan territory and the new checkpoints:

Day says there's inadequate RCMP and conservation officer resources in enforcing hunting and health guidelines in the region.

"It was clear we weren't going to get the support we were hoping for, so we've continued to take matters into our own hands," he said.

The Tahltan Nation is blocking 40 access points to its traditional territory, using concrete blocks and metal gates. (Facebook/Tahltan Central Government)

Travelling to hunt not essential, government says

In a written response to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development confirms B.C. has declared hunting an "essential service" under provincial pandemic guidelines.

"This in practice refers to hunting locally for food cultivation to support sustenance harvest opportunities. Travelling to hunt is considered recreational and therefore is non-essential." 

Still, the Ministry is urging recreational hunters to respect local community wishes.

"We ask anyone who is looking to recreate, including hunting and fishing, to do their research before they leave home, respect the wishes of local communities and follow local travel advisories and guidance."

However, the province is continuing to issue licenses to hunt within management units that include Tahltan lands. No refunds will be issued for unused licences. 

Tensions could increase, leader says

"This isn't an issue about Tahltan People versus resident hunters. It's always been a safety concern, a safety issue," Day said. 

He says First Nations health authorities in the region have no ventilators, few doctors and no pharmacies to deal with a spreading pandemic. 

The band's non-resident quarantine, which includes Tahltan members living away from the region, has separated families.

"I only see issues like this becoming more and more heated and hostile in the future if the province and communities like the Tahltan can't come together in vulnerable times like this."

The Tahltan First Nation says hunters are not welcome on its lands, due to the pandemic. (Facebook/Tahltan Central Government)