Haida Nation members have delivered letters to several fishing lodges that operate on Haida Gwaii, asking them to observe the current state of emergency declared by the nation and not open to visitors.
But one lodge operator is adamant the business will reopen on July 10.
Donald Edgars, a Haida chief councillor for Old Massett, said community members decided to go out for a day of fishing Saturday and deliver the letters, after hearing that Queen Charlotte Lodge had been bringing in workers and appeared to be preparing to reopen.
“We’re still in a state of emergency, and we’re able to do that as First Nations,” Edgars said. “We’re not able to open up to the world yet.”
But Paul Clough, the president of the Queen Charlotte Lodge, says the fishing lodge will open for business on July 10. In a statement sent to CTV News Vancouver after the initial publication of this story, Clough said the lodge is 45 kilometres from the nearest community “by boat or air” and is complying with provincial requirements as it plans its reopening.
Edgars sent CTV News Vancouver a copy of the letter he delivered to the lodge on Saturday. The letter asks the lodge to respond to the Council of the Haida Nation regarding whether the lodge plans to reopen on July 10. It says the “current state of emergency does not permit reopening Haida Gwaii to any non-essential travel, including the operation of fishing lodges.”
The letter says that the Council of the Haida Nation is currently reviewing its policies around COVID-19, and must apply those policies fairly to all businesses on the islands, which are located around 100 kilometres west of B.C.'s north coast.
On June 28, a lodge spokesperson told the Haida Gwaii Observer newspaper that the business would follow the lead of the Council of the Haida Nation to reopen, but said the lodge does want to reopen at some point this summer.
Edgars said that as the group of 12 boats was leaving the Queen Charlotte Lodge-owned fishing lodge and heading out through Naden Harbour, around 40 boats from the lodge drove past the group at high speed.
Video Edgars shared with CTV News Vancouver shows a long line of boats going past the Haida group. He said the way the Queen Charlotte Lodge boats were operated was unsafe, and people in his group got on the radio to tell them slow down.
But according to Clough, it’s the Queen Charlotte Lodge staff who were harassed by the Haida boats. He said the lodge has filed a complaint with the RCMP over the incident.
“There were a number of close calls as our staff skillfully avoided being rammed by the CHN and other boats – fortunately there were no collisions or injuries,” Clough wrote in his statement.
The statement goes on to say: “If the CHN truly believes we would be breaking a law in re-opening, we have asked them to inform us exactly what law that is, and we will discuss it with our legal counsel and respond appropriately.”
Edgars’ group also delivered letters to the Langara Lodge. John McCulloch, vice president of operations for the Langara Lodge, told CTV News Vancouver the company has no plans to reopen, and has been working with the Haida during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We’re working – and we always have worked – with the Council of the Haida Nation, and we’re working with the Council of the Haida Nation to open when it’s safe to open,” McCulloch told CTV News Vancouver.
He added that Langara Lodge has been a registered operator with the Council of the Haida Nation since 1988.
First Nations in B.C. have been successful in keeping the number of COVID-19 cases low in their communities: according to provincial health officials, there were just 87 cases detected out of 5,500 tests between January and June 2020.
First Nations governments acted quickly to put in strict measures, like barring visitors from their communities or making masks mandatory. Those early actions were effective in keeping numbers low, said Dr. Shannon McDonald, acting chief medical officer for the First Nations Health Authority, during a press conference on June 26.
“We have people alive and well who tell the stories of previous pandemics, of Indian hospitals, of TB,” McDonald said. “Losing people in those circumstances and losing control. That fear response, that internal memory of those things, makes people extremely aware.”
During the same press conference, B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, emphasized that even though the province has moved into Phase 3 of its reopening plan, many First Nation communities are not yet ready to welcome visitors.
Edgars said Queen Charlotte Lodge, which advertises itself as a “luxury fishing lodge,” typically hosts many visitors from the United States, where COVID-19 cases have kept on rising to alarming levels. He said there continues to be concern about how Haida Gwaii would handle a COVID-19 outbreak.
“We just feel that our people have been abiding by all the rules about opening up; we understand some of them might lose their businesses,” Edgars said. “It’s not fair that QCL comes in and they can open up when our own people can’t open up.”