Two B.C. First Nations who shut down public access to a popular park say the closure comes after five years of consultation with BC Parks came up short.
In a statement Wednesday sent to Glacier Media, Líl̓wat Nation and N’Quatqua First Nation said their access to resources has not been prioritized and the Harvest Celebration closure was proposed five weeks ago.
“While successes have been gained through our partnership in terms of implementing a cap on the number of visitors and a Day-use pass permit, access to the resources by Líl̓wat and N’Quatqua has not been prioritized,” said the two First Nations in a statement.
The two First Nations also said their goals have been on hold for many years and were left "overshadowed by importance placed on tourism" at Pipi7iyekw – Joffre Lakes Park. As a result, the First Nations decided they would be "shutting down" the park.
"Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, Líl̓wat and N’Quatqua Nations have closed Pipi7iyekw,” states the release.
The First Nations said they were shutting down the park so they could harvest and gather resources within the territories.
On Wednesday afternoon the First Nation confirmed they will be temporarily opening the park on the Labour Day weekend for just Saturday, Sunday and Monday as a sign of good faith. BC Parks website has not made these dates available to book day passes.
After the long weekend, the park will be temporarily closed again to the public until Sept. 30, B.C.'s National Truth and Reconciliation Day.
"The time has come to prioritize the Nation’s access to their resources, food sustenance and to remove barriers that discourage our use of Pipi7iyekw for traditional use activities,” said the First Nations in a statement.
Following the announcement, BC Parks immediately cancelled user day passes and camping reservations to the park and fully refunded them with news of the closure.
Before its closure, the park accommodated up to about 200,000 visitors per year, with 1,053 day-use passes available every day.
Visitor management prioritized
The First Nations' decision to close the park came after five years of collaborative efforts between the two Nations and BC Parks.
"These discussions were focused on addressing visitor management rather than prioritizing Nation member access and cultural use in the area,” states the First Nations.
A spokesperson with BC Parks says "the number of trail passes in Joffre Lakes was established through the Joffre Lakes Visitor Use Management Strategy, developed jointly with the Líl’wat Nation and N’Quatqua to protect Lílwat Nation and N’Quatqua cultural values... and ensure resource protection, public safety, and minimal visitor conflict."
Under adjusted booking rules, BC Parks began issuing mandatory day-use passes to visit the popular park in 2021.
Líl̓wat First Nation claims it has been trying to meet with BC Parks to discuss crowding in the parks and land use.
According to staff, “we’ve been requesting, we need to have time there as well ... but it’s never been granted. It’s never been talked about.”
In their joint statement to Glacier Media, the Líl̓wat Nation and N’Quatqua First Nation thanked people for respecting their closure.
"Líl̓wat Nation and N’Quatqua First Nation want to extend our gratitude to all our supporters, our allies, and all park visitors that showed understanding and positive responses to the news of Pipi7iekw,” reads the statement.