A B.C. First Nations chief in the province’s fire zone is vowing to stay and fight the flames – along with anyone who tries to take the community’s children away.
The Tl’etinqox First Nation community of Anaham Reserve, about 100 kilometres west of Williams Lake, is currently being threatened by a number of fires, including the large Gustafsen fire.
LISTEN: B.C. First Nations chief says children in his community are safe
About 300 of the community’s some 1,000 members are currently defying an evacuation order covering the area, a move Chief Joe Alphonse believes is their best chance to protect their homes.
But Alphonse said the fires are now the least of their worries.
Tensions with the RCMP began rising Sunday when the force threatened to remove children from the reserve, Alphonse said.
But Alphonse is vowing that no children will be removed from the reserve under any circumstances, and told police the community will fight back if anyone tries.
“We’ll do everything we can to avoid it, but if push comes to shove, we’re not letting them come in. And if they do come in, we’re not letting them leave,” he said.
Alphonse said he suggested their own roadblocks would keep the Mounties out and if that didn’t work, perhaps warning shots above their heads would.
WATCH: Full coverage of B.C. wildfires
According to the RCMP, competent adults are allowed to make decisions to ignore evacuation orders.
But B.C. RCMP Staff Sgt. Annie Linteau said that’s not the case for children, who may have to be removed by law.
“Under the Child, Family and Community Service Act, where an adult has children and refuses to comply with an order we must ensure that the children leave the property. And they could be apprehended under that act.”
But Alphonse said the threats to remove kids betray the RCMP’s stated goal of rebuilding its relationship with First Nations people.
“Those kids are safer here than in any foster home.”
Linteau said she will raise Alphonse’s concerns about the impact the threat of child apprehension has had on his community’s relationship with RCMP with the Mounties involved.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs issued a news release Wednesday saying Indigenous Peoples have a fundamental right to make decisions about protecting and defending their safety, health and well-being of their community.
“If and when houses and band infrastructure are lost to these fires, it will take years to rebuild and we fear in many instances the homes and infrastructure may never be built,” said union Grand Chief Stewart Phillip.
That’s a concern Alphonse shares. He said many in the community believe if their homes are destroyed, government red tape and underfunding to First Nations communities will make them impossible to rebuild.
“If we walk away from what we have, we may never get that back,” he said, adding he believed those who stayed back saved about 10 homes.
“We’re a generation of Tshilhqot’in. We live in a fire zone. We’ve always lived in a fire zone.”
-With files from the Canadian Press