A remote Tsilhqot’in First Nations community approximately 200 kilometers west of Williams Lake will be going into a second community lockdown after a neighbouring community was exposed to the novel coronavirus.
Access to Xeni Gwet’in First Nation will be restricted for the next 14 days starting Friday, April 24 at 9 p.m. after a released inmate from a Lower Mainland institution who visited Tl’etinqox (Anaham) tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
“We will allow essential services to go through (but that’s all),” said Chief Jimmy Lulua. “We’re also going to allow our grader to go through to make sure that the ambulance can make it here because we’re dealing with some spring flooding issues.”
Tl’etinqox members have been told to self-isolate this week but will also go into a formal lockdown for a period of two weeks effective 6 p.m. Friday, April 24.
An outbreak of the deadly virus, Lulua said, could wipe out two generations of their people.
“The young ones who are just born, their immune systems aren’t established yet and then our Elders their immune systems are compromised also so we could end up losing two generations and basically that could wipe out almost our entire culture, our language, our identity as a First Nation people,” Lulula said.“So a lockdown is very serious to us and we feel that currently when you go around Williams Lake it’s still business as usual. There’s people still wondering around and not yet taking it seriously.”
A state of emergency was declared by the Tsilhqot’in National government on behalf of the six Tsilhqot’in communities communities including Xeni Gwet’in, Tl’etinqox, Yunesit’in, Tsideldel, and ?Esdilagh on March 31.
It’s been just over a week since the first lockdown was lifted at Xeni Gwet’in.
“We felt that we could take it down a notch but with the (COVID-19 exposure at Tl’etinqox) there’s more fear,” Lulula said. “At the end of the day we’ve been planning and preparing for awhile now and we’re ready. We feel that we have the resources.”
With fear and anxiety running high due to the escalating threat of the coronavirus, he noted the previous lockdown was not immune from challenges.
He said despite being an isolated community where one can step outside surrounded by a picturesque landscape and many lakes to fish, one subdivision within the community has homes and complexes that are clustered together.
“That’s been the difficult part,” Lulula said. “There’s been a lot of parties, a lot of mischief and break-ins”
As local leaders and staff work to continue to protect the land and community during the crisis, he said it was “unfortunate” a Tsilhqot’in National Government truck had its tires slashed and sugar poured in its gas tank sometime Wednesday (April 22) night.
“We’re trying to to keep our community safe but people who are dysfunctional on drugs and alcohol they see that they’re being targeted and we’re locking them down,” Lulua said. “They don’t see the big picture of we’re trying to protect our identity, we’re trying to protect our language, our culture, and our existence. They don’t see that part, they just see us it us trying to show authority.”
The lockdown at Xeni Gwet’in will last until May 8.