Why Haida Matriarchs Are Rising Up To Protect Their Lands From COVID-19

“A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then its finished; no matter how brave its warriors or how strong their weapons.”

Port Alberni, BC-Nuu-chah-nulth Territories, July 13, 2020 – When John Horgan announced on June 24, 2020 that BC would be starting Phase 3 re-opening of the province without First Nation consent or even consultation, he stirred up a hornet’s nest.

On June 9th, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council issued a statement that they wanted 4 conditions fulfilled before their territories could open up. These conditions included easy access to testing and rapid results, screening of non-residents coming into the territory, culturally sensitive contact tracing and communications protocols on knowing if someone with the virus was close to our communities. These issues were not resolved before the Premier announced the province was open and remain unfulfilled.

On June 24th, the Heiltsuk, Nuu-chah-nulth and Tsilhqot’in collectively issued a statement that they did not give their consent to the Premier with opening up the province until the same 4 conditions were met. Conditions were for the safety and protection of our citizens from the virus.

On July 9th, Haida Matriarchs occupied their ancient villages to protect their people against Covid-19. Most businesses on Haida Gwaii have kept closed to non-residents, 2 fishing lodges (Queen Charlotte Lodge and West Coast Fishing Club) have opened against Haida Law and state of emergency. These businesses bring in a lot of non-residents by plane and with their arrival, the potential to expose the Haida to the virus. They refuse to be wiped out by the virus as they once almost were with the smallpox epidemic.

Haida have been clear from the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic that non-residents are not welcome. They turned non-residents around at the ferry so they would not come in. They have plans in place on how to assess when they can open the island. Remoteness, lack of capacity to handle an outbreak, and the lack of consent are contributing factors to these decisions.

President Judith Sayers commented that “It is too bad that Haida Matriarchs must take extreme measure to protect the health and safety of their people. Haida jurisdiction has been in place since time immemorial and must be respected. We ask all people to respect the Haida Matriarchs and stay away from Haida Gwaii and not frequent these fishing lodges.”

Mariah Charleson, Vice President said “We live in a province that has committed to reconciliation. When Haida grandmothers and Matriarchs are left to occupy fishing lodges, due to lack of consultation and acknowledgement of jurisdiction, we have a real concern.”

The Nuu-chah-nulth call on the BC Government to rethink the Phase 3 re-opening, especially in places like Haida Gwaii, remote communities in Nuu-chah-nulth, Heiltsuk and Tsilhqot’in. They ask the BC government to honour the Universal Declaration of Indigenous Rights and Reconciliation and recognize First Nations consent and jurisdiction. BC is getting more cases of the virus in the last week, and it is a trend that will continue as BC welcomes in people from across Canada.

The Nuu-chah-nulth stand with the Haida Matriarchs, their hearts are not on the ground and they are asserting their laws and jurisdiction to protect their own people. Every First Nation is self-determining and have the right of consent as to the opening of their territories. The BC Government must respect this. John Horgan’s government need not have stirred up a hornet’s nest if he had worked with First Nations to meet their concerns over Covid-19.