Members of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation (TFN), an Indigenous community located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, are stopping cars travelling along Hwy. 4 from Port Alberni towards the Tofino-Ucluelet region.
“We are stopping cars to stop COVID-19 from reaching the Coast,” said TFN hereditary chief and emergency preparedness co-ordinator Simon Tom.
About six TFN members were gathered at Sutton Pass, the boundary line to TFN territory, on Tuesday morning. They did not have an illegal blockade set-up, but Tom said the number of TFN members that turn up at Sutton Pass might grow over the next few days.
“As much as we don’t want to do this, we need to cap the pandemic. We met about two or three times, chief and council, the message is, ‘Be proactive, not reactive.’ I was saying that we have to stop using the word ‘if’ and prepare for it now,” he said.
“We are doing this to protect all Tofino community and our residents. Not just our tribe, but the whole community. We have a small hospital so if it breaks out then we’ll have half the town will have to see the doctor. It’s safety precautions,” said Tom.
Michael Hunt stood with the TFN members on Tuesday morning.
“We were stopping the road to let them know about the virus. We weren’t letting anybody who were from out of town to come through. The only ones who are allowed to go through are those living in Ucluelet and Tofino and we didn’t stop the [delivery] trucks,” said Hunt.
“Traffic stopped. A lot of people were getting out and screaming at us. They were saying this is our land, not yours. We belong here more than you and a lot of young people started to jump out of their cars telling us this is not right and we don’t have a right to this,” he continued.
“We were just protecting not only our Nation, but Ahousaht, Tofino and Ucluelet and anybody who lives in the West Coast area. We were making a point to let people know we were serious about this virus,” he said.
Herediatry chief Tom said a few visitors heading to the West Coast did indeed turn around after they were stopped by TFN members.
Two RCMP officers from the Port Alberni detachment were on scene at the Sutton Pass gathering on Tuesday morning. They offered hand sanitizer to the TFN members and recommended that all of them wear high visibility clothing.
No westbound vehicles were denied travel, however several vehicles decided themselves to turn around, notes a statement from BC RCMP Communication Services.
“We understand that people have concerns and wish to do their part to mitigate the risk to their communities. In order to do so, we must continue to follow direction given by the Provincial Health Authorities and not put yourself or the motoring public at risk by obstructing traffic,” states Cpl. Chris Manseau BC RCMP Media Relations Officer in the media release.
On March 16, Ahousaht First Nation closed its community to non-residents as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19.
Many Tofino and Ucluelet businesses have temporarily closed or are taking temporary measures as a response to COVID-19. The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, one of 48 National Parks in Canada, will suspend all visitor services as of March 18.
The Westerly News has reached out to Tourism Tofino for comment.
More to come.