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'It’s not a theme park'

Lil'wat Nation Chief Dean Nelson feels this summer’s partial closure of Joffre Lakes ‘Pipi7íyekew’ is a positive step forward for Lil’wat Nation.
Lil'wat Chief Dean Nelson education agreement
Lil'wat Chief Dean Nelson

This week’s announcement that Joffre Lakes ‘Pipi7íyekew’ will close for three periods this summer is being welcomed by members of the Lil’wat Nation.

The closures are the result of a partnership approach from BC Parks, Lil’wat Nation and N’Quatqua.

Chief of Lil’wat Nation, Dean Nelson, has vocally criticized the negative effects overtourism has had on the important cultural space. Joffre Lakes and the wider Duffey corridor are a “banquet place” where minerals and plants can be gathered, berries harvested, animals such as mountain goat and deer hunted, mammals trapped, and fish caught. 

It saddened Nelson to see nature being “taken advantage of” during recent summers. “There’s limits to everything,” he said. “It’s not a theme park or anything. It’s nature and it has its own life and existence.”

Nelson said the partial closure is a step in the right direction for the Lil’wat Nation. ”It’s always a good thing to be moving forward, exercising [our rights] a little bit more every year and every opportunity,” he said.

When asked if it was a positive move forward on their journey towards Truth and Reconciliation, Nelson offered a different way at looking at things.

“We have been allowing [the province] more time on our lands, and we are just taking it back,” he said.

He felt discussions to date have given all parties time to reflect on what’s truly important.

“It means just looking at the priorities,” he said, “What are the priorities? Is it the public, or is it adhering to the reconciliation that people talk about?”

Nelson stressed everyone has a responsibility to protect Joffre Lakes’ natural beauty.

“It just means keeping the numbers down and being respectful for what we have. We are all grateful for what we have,” he said. “We have to take care of it the best we can.”

Nelson hopes to spend as much time at Joffre Lakes as possible this summer when it is closed to the public, including a ceremony happening on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30.

Lil'wat and N'Quatqua First Nations first announced they were "shutting down" access to the park in a joint statement on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. In a statement sent to Glacier Media the following week, the Nations said their access to resources has not been prioritized.

Nelson previously told Pique last year’s surprise closure was powerful and well-needed.

“The children went there to bathe,” he said. “It was glacier water but they just felt like they needed to bathe and give thanks for that time and space. We haven’t had that. That’s exactly what I was asking for from the government. We just need time and space, our own time and space. Not wrestling with the crowds trying to park. It’s the very beginning of that. The place itself is spiritual.”

He scoffed at the now-infamous "Instagram log" and the effect that social media has had on Joffre Lakes.

“It’s a commodity for them,” he said. “People think they have to be there, to take the picture there ... There is hunting there, too. We have actually had a lot of confrontation because of people going hunting on cultural trails. All of a sudden, there were mountain bikers ripping down wondering what the hell they were doing. It’s a cultural trail first.”

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