Closure of the Gwadats’ih provincial campground at the top of Chilko Lake by the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation Government is unfair, says a First Nations woman from Tl’etinqox Band.
“I, as an Aboriginal woman, am not even allowed access to go fishing and camping and bear viewing while non-Native lodge owners nearby are taking their guests bear viewing,” Esther Mueller said after reading an article in the Tribune about the closure.
In an earlier interview, Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William said the campground, which is located more than four hours west of Williams Lake, has been closed for the last five years at the beginning of September for safety reasons to protect the bears and the public.
He confirmed that tourism operators in the region are being allowed to continue with their permitted activities.
Mueller, however, said in the 30 years she has accessed Chilko Lake when she worked at the Chilko Lake Lodge or camped and fished on the lake not once has she heard of an incident with bears.
“The bears just eat and mind their own business,” Mueller said. “We are respectful and they go about their way doing their fishing and eating. This camping area has been there for 100 years and now it is closed to First Nations people.”
William said Thursday that his community has never had the resources to pay for putting park guides in place to ensure safety at the campground.
He insisted that it can get “pretty crazy” and hectic during bear season.
“There have been a lot of close calls with people getting really close to the bears,” he said. “Maybe there hasn’t been an incident, but we don’t want to wait for one.”
In the future there might be an opportunity for tourists to pay Xeni Gwet’in or Tsilhqot’in guides and it could be structured in a way that people could make a booking, but that’s not even on the table yet as the Tsilhqot’in are in transition negotiating title lands with the province through its five-year Nenqay Deni Accord agreement, William said.
“These are some of the options and ideas we can be looking at.”
Mueller complained about the closure last year and said she will continue to raise the issue because she believes people from all six bands in the Tsilhqot’in Nation are being discriminated against.