‘Disjointed’ system hinders British Columbia First Nations in wildfire fight

More than 550 wildfires were burning in B.C. and crews were bracing for wind and dry lightning

A fragmented system that makes British Columbia responsible for regional districts but gives the federal government authority for First Nations is hampering Indigenous groups in the wildfire fight, community leaders say.

Miranda Louie of the Nadleh Whut’en in central B.C. said the regional district has been calling Chief Larry Nooski to let him know when it issues an evacuation order or alert. That can leave band members scrambling to knock on doors to tell residents to get out.

“Larry should have been at the meeting where they called the order, not a phone call away,” said Louie, who handles communications for the band. “We really need to be put at the table with everyone else, especially with the planning.”

A 583-square-kilometre blaze has charred an area from Fraser Lake to Fort St. James, including some buildings at a Nadleh Whut’en camp. The wildfire service issued a warning of extreme fire behaviour for the blaze on Friday. The warning can be issued when high heat and a lack of rain combine to strip humidity from the air.

More than 550 wildfires were burning in B.C. and crews were bracing for wind and dry lightning. Residents of nearly 3,000 properties remained out of their homes and about 11,000 were told to be prepared to leave.

The province announced it would match donations to the Red Cross for people affected by wildfires.

Bill Miller, chairman of the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District, said he agrees with Nooski that the system is “disjointed.”

“It’s tough for us, too,” he said. “It’s a bit of a screwed-up system … We should be all at the same table. The only way that we’ve made it work at all is those phone calls.

“It’s not good. It’s not the perfect way to do things.”

Band councils, based on advice from the provincial wildfire service and regional districts, are responsible for declaring their own evacuation orders and alerts for members on reserve land, said John Rustad, a former Aboriginal relations minister.

The key is the advice, which Nooski felt he didn’t receive, said Rustad, who represents the area in the legislature.

Rustad said Nooski called him “in a panic” on Monday night because the chief had gone to the community’s cultural camp and found no security despite the fire being about three kilometres away. Nooski made sure people left, and since then the fire has destroyed some structures there.

READ MORE: Warning of extreme wildfire behaviour due to Shovel Lake blaze

“He expressed concern that he had not been kept informed with regard to the current status (of the fire),” Rustad said.

The province heard concerns from some First Nations about communication and reached out to them, including the Nadleh Whut’en, said Forests Ministry spokeswoman Dawn Makarowski in an email.

The Wildfire Service is doing risk assessments with First Nations, she added.

“First Nations have extensive knowledge and a deep connection to the forests, waters and lands of their territories. We are working to include this wisdom and experience in our approach to planning around — and responding to — wildfires.”

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said he was on his way Friday afternoon to meet with Nooski and had spoken to him by phone on Thursday.

“(It) feels like they’re looped into the communications quite well now,” he said.

Louie, who is speaking for the chief while he deals with the fire crisis, said the First Nation met with provincial staff on Thursday.

“The communication lines have been opened now, but they should have been opened two weeks ago,” she said.

During last year’s worst wildfire season in B.C., Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit called on the federal government to create a $200-million emergency preparedness and response fund for Indigenous communities in the province.

He said the fund should support First Nations for at least the next four years to create emergency response plans, buy equipment and train members.

The province has funded municipalities and regional districts to prepare for wildfires and the federal government must do the same for First Nations, he said.

“First Nations communities feel isolated and have largely been unfairly left to their own devices,” he said in his proposal.

John said the federal government declined his request last year, so he is reissuing it.

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

$1.3 million in road upgrade projects coming to the streets of Revelstoke

City Council awarded the contract to Jake-Jay Construction at their July 23 council meeting

Revelstoke developer asking for community feedback for Hay Rd. proposal

The Arrow Heights project would see a mix of single family houses, townhouses and duplexes

Wayne’s World: We’re in a climate emergency, let’s act like it

Wayne Stetski MP, Kootenay-Columbia One of the issues I hear about most… Continue reading

Crazy Senoritas coming to Revelstoke

They will be performing at the golf course on Aug. 23

Revelstoke Museum raising funds to create Washed Away film

The film will be about the displacement of people from the damming of the Columbia River

Okanagan-based pop star Andrew Allen is back with a new band

Singer-songwriter Andrew Allen is bringing his new band home for a concert this Friday

B.C. wine industry legend Harry McWatters dies

Among his accomplishments, McWatters founded the province’s first estate winery, Sumac Ridge Estate

Okanagan man grows tomato with an… unusual shape

The man could only conclude that it was a decidedly “male” tomato.

Provincial health body refuses to release full findings of cancer triage system audit

Information and Privacy Commissioner asked to review redactions

Southern resident killer whale died of blunt trauma, likely from ship

J34 was found more than two years ago near Sechelt, but the necropsy findings have now been released

Supportive housing first step to healing: BC Housing CEO

Shayne Ramsay explains changes to Rutland’s McCurdy development

Central Okanagan motorcycle crash causes two impaired driving investigations

The driver’s injuries, although serious, are not believed to be life-threatening in nature

B.C. rail crossing death highlights risks for people in wheelchairs: watchdog

Transportation Safety Board points to ‘persistent risks faced by persons using assistive devices’

Kelowna baby snatcher pleads guilty

Harold Giffen Clarkson Nyren is sentenced to two years probation

Most Read