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First Nations 'shutting down' access to popular B.C. park until Sept. 30

Two B.C. First Nations say they are "shutting down the public access" to a popular provincial park on their traditional territories, and won't be reopening the area for more than a month.

In a joint statement issued Thursday, the Líl̓wat and N’Quatqua First Nations say they are closing access to Pipi7iyekw, better known as Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, until National Truth and Reconciliation Day on Sept. 30.

"In this time of reconciliation, Líl̓wat Nation and N'Quatqua First Nation are asserting our Title and Rights to our shared unceded territory to take this time to harvest and gather our resources within our territories," the statement reads.

"Our goal is to ensure our well-being for our future. We are asking you to help in honoring us by providing us with sufficient time and space that we require to conduct our Nt'akmen within our lands."

The statement references a variety of legal grounds for asserting the nations' right to close the park, including the goals of the provincial park's Visitor Use Management Strategy and its Management Action Plan, as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Supreme Court of Canada's Tsilhqot'in decision affirming Indigenous land rights.

In an emailed statement to CTV News, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change said BC Parks said it was “recently made aware of unanticipated circumstances at Joffre Lakes Park.”

The ministry confirmed that the public will not be able to access the park with day passes or camping reservations from Aug. 25 to Aug. 27.

“We are currently in the process of contacting everyone who had camping reservations on those dates,” reads the statement, which specifies that all reservations will be fully refunded. “If people’s trip extends beyond these three days, please call the call centre for assistance in modifying your reservation: 1-800-689-9025.”

BC Parks says it’s already contacted people who had day passes for the park on Friday and over the weekend to advise them of the closure.

“We recognize the impact that this has on people’s plans on short-notice. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate people’s understanding,” said the ministry.

CTV News has reached out to the nations for more information on the situation, and this story will be updated if responses are received. 

In recent years, Joffre Lakes has grown into one of B.C.'s best-known and most popular provincial parks, largely thanks to Instagram and other social media sites, where users have flocked to share photos of the lakes' turquoise-blue waters.

The park drew more than 196,000 visitors in 2019, a 222 per cent increase from the number who visited in 2010. 

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Joffre Lakes has been one of several popular parks subject to day pass requirements aimed at avoiding overcrowding. Top Stories

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