B.C. in talks with First Nations amid confusion over closure of Joffre Lakes park

Click to play video: 'Controversial shutdown of Joffre Lake Park by B.C. First Nations'
Controversial shutdown of Joffre Lake Park by B.C. First Nations
WATCH: Questions and controversy, after two B.C. First Nations made the surprise announcement that they're shutting down public access to one of the province's most popular provincial parks for more than a month. Paul Johnson reports – Aug 25, 2023

There are growing questions and confusion about an unprecedented move by the B.C. government to close one of the province’s most popular provincial parks on behalf of two First Nations.

Park rangers were at the entrance to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park on Friday, turning visitors away.

That came a day after an announcement by the Líl̓wat and N’Quatqua First Nations that they were “shutting down” public access to the park until the end of September to support Indigenous celebrations, including harvesting food and ceremonial activities.

Whether the closure will last that long remains unclear, according to the province.

Click to play video: 'Joffre Lakes Park closed to public until end of September'
Joffre Lakes Park closed to public until end of September

In a statement Friday, B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said his ministry was in talks with the nations “to find a solution that will provide space and privacy for cultural activities while ensuring public access to the park in a responsible and sustainable manner.”

Story continues below advertisement

“My staff and I have been in active conversations with members of the Nations as we work to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs,” Heyman said.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

In the interim, however, BC Parks has moved to close access to the area through Sept. 1 as discussions continue, Heyman said.

The booking system for park day passes has been deactivated, and the province is offering refunds to people who had backcountry reservations at Joffre Lakes.

BC United Skeena MLA Ellis Ross said the sudden closure and the province’s reaction are evidence of a breakdown in communication and of a failure to properly engage with the two nations.

Click to play video: 'Landslide at Joffre peak, no injuries or fatalities reported'
Landslide at Joffre peak, no injuries or fatalities reported

Ross, who was formerly the elected chief councillor of the Haisla Nation, alleged the NDP government has failed to sit down and meaningfully deal with First Nations interests.

Story continues below advertisement

The result, he argued, was First Nations finding themselves forced to act on their own, or finding themselves in the middle of contentious political disputes such as caribou management in the B.C. interior or old-growth logging at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island.

“I do understand where these First Nations are coming from, I do understand their frustration, I do understand the general public wondering what will happen to other Crown assets and how it will affect them,” Ross said.

“I think this actually goes back to openness and transparency and accountability that the government owes the people of B.C. in respect to these types of issues, and actually handle it head-on. Don’t leave the First Nations to be blamed for all of it, because this is not the First Nations’ fault.

“They are at the table trying to negotiate an agreement, trying to address their interests and their rights and title, but it’s this government that for some reason or another is ignoring it.”

Click to play video: 'BC Parks warn hikers about crowds at Joffre Lakes'
BC Parks warn hikers about crowds at Joffre Lakes

At the Joffre Lakes trailhead Monday, visiting tourists were visibly confused.

Story continues below advertisement

“I’m disappointed, of course. Why?” one traveller from Japan told Global News.

Another visitor from Germany said Friday was his second attempt to access the park after previously failing to get a day pass, and that while he was sympathetic, he wished he’d been notified of the closure before arriving.

“I can understand for the natural reserves, and to keep it as it is in the future as it was in the past,” he said.

“Maybe like something to get from the news would have been better, and then I would not drive here.”

In his statement, Heyman apologized for the disruption, saying the government understood the impact the closure has had on people’s plans with short notice.

Joffre Lakes have grown in recent years to become one of B.C.’s premiere attractions. In 2019 it saw 196,000, an increase of 222 per cent since 2010.

Sponsored content