Xeni Gwet’in First Nation recently unveiled the community’s new boat which was purchased last year. (Margaret Lulua Facebook photo)

Second COVID-19 lockdown brings challenges and strengths into focus for Xeni Gwet’in

Chief Jimmy Lulua encourages community members to strive toward self-sufficiency

A First Nations community west of Williams Lake is looking to strengthen its well-being following a second 14-day lockdown.

The lockdown which was a precautionary measure to help protect Xeni Gwet’in from COVID-19 was lifted at 8 a.m on Friday, May 8.

Although this lockdown went slightly better than the first, Xeni Gwet’in Chief Jimmy Lulua said drugs and alcohol continued to trickle into the community during the lockdown which had resulted in increased anxiety for many. It also took an emotional toll, Lulua said.

“When you lockdown your community you start seeing who’s who in your community,” he said. “We started seeing all the social problems that are still alive and well in our community.”

Read More: Former Xeni Gwet’in chief drums traditional songs during pandemic lockdown

With the May long weekend approaching, Lulua said he hopes to see the morale of his community increase and members get back to being out on the land by engaging in such activities as gardening.

“Overall I do want the community to feel well and do a lot of positive things that should be happening right now,” he said. “It’s currently the planting months in our area so I see in Williams Lake quite a bit of people are doing the same too so it is changing our lives for the better. People are starting to think more long-term about putting in gardens and being self-sufficient on their own.”

A general assembly was held prior to the lockdown being lifted. With social physical distancing in full practice, the day concluded with a barbecue and the unveiling of the community’s new lake boat which was purchased last year.

“We brought a few elders and people who have never been on the lake before in small groups and everyone was feeling really good,” he said.

Lulua noted he does have concern about the number of tree planters in the area.

Read More: Tl’etinqox chief concerned about tree planters after community emerges from first lockdown

Lulua estimates there are about 400 tree planters, mostly from Ontario and Quebec, in the area at this point, and that the number could swell to 1,500.

He said he will be meeting with provincial officials to further discuss his concerns on Wednesday, and that he would like to have their nation rangers be able to remove tree planters from the area if guidelines by B.C.’s provincial health officer are being violated.

“The B.C. government … put all these strict guidelines on the tree planters but at the end of the day it’s just an honour system. They allow employers to be the guard dog which to me is not acceptable.”

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