(Coast Salish Territory / Vancouver BC – July 12, 2017) Several Indigenous communities throughout British Columbia are in states of emergency or on evacuation alerts as wildfires threaten their homes and territories. Indigenous Peoples have a fundamental right to make decisions with respect to protecting and defending the safety, health and well-being of our community members, housing and community infrastructure. Some have decided to stay and defend their homes rather than evacuate.
“The Union of BC Indian Chiefs totally supports the informed decisions of Indigenous leadership and community members to stand and to fight to protect their communities,” stated Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, UBCIC President. “If and when houses and band infrastructure are lost to these fires, it will take years to rebuild and we fear in many instances the homes and infrastructure may never be built. It is early on but already it is abundantly clear there is an urgent need to do an in-depth review of the disturbing gaps in communications, support, capacity and equipment with respect to Indigenous communities, BC’s Emergency Program Act and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.”
Chief Bob Chamberlin, UBCIC Vice-President, said “Ideally, there would be a BC First Nation coordination table identifying a comprehensive needs list and the strategic deployment of critical equipment and resources when emergencies occur. It is vitally important for a full-time provincial-level First Nation Emergency Coordinator to manage province-wide capacity. Organizations such as First Nations Emergency Services Society must have funds reinstated by INAC to continue to support capacity to expand community-based training programs for the prevention and suppression of forest fires so our communities are prepared. The 2017/2018 prevention funds must be released to the communities now, not in the fall as typically released.”
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, UBCIC Secretary-Treasurer, observed, “The provincial approach is designed to put municipalities and townships first rather than Indigenous communities. Many of the First Nations communities are in rural or remote areas and require resources and capacity. A more comprehensive approach is needed between BC and Canada and based on recognition of Indigenous peoples. A Tripartite MOU is being discussed but needs to be in place immediately. Project-based federal funding is not enough when climate change emergencies become an ongoing reality, such as the current wildfires and the floods this past spring. There needs to be permanent resources and training for First Nations to protect their communities.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, 604-684-0231