Heiltsuk First Nation urges outsiders to stay away after yachts arrive during B.C. coronavirus lockdown

The remote coastal community of Bella Bella, B.C., home to roughly 1,400 people, has little capacity to take care of its own residents with just one ventilator and only two doctors

Several yachts, flying both Canadian and U.S. flags, have recently arrived in the community of Bella Bella, B.C. Here, yachts and other boats are pictured at the Shearwater Resort and Marina dock in September 2019. Photo: Louise Whitehouse / The Narwhal

The community of Bella Bella, B.C., is on lockdown. No one is coming in or out; even Heiltsuk First Nation members who live out of the territory are being asked to stay away for the moment.

But that hasn’t stopped the yachts.

“I’ve just watched five yachts pull into the Shearwater harbour,” says Megan Humchitt, a band councillor with Heiltsuk First Nation. “Which is quite concerning, since we do have a travel advisory in place.”

The travel advisory has been in place for more than two weeks. It tells non-residents they will be turned away. The community will also be broadcasting over VHF radio to inform boaters of the bylaw.

“We’re asking that non-residents — tourists or visitors — do not come to Heiltsuk territory because it puts a strain on our limited resources,” Humchitt says.

Jess Housty, Heiltsuk member and executive director of the Qqs Project Society, a youth, culture and environment non-profit in Bella Bella, took to Twitter to criticize the unwelcome arrivals, saying, “you shouldn’t be trying to draw down on our limited resources.”

Jess Housty@jesshousty

If you can afford a yacht, you can afford to stay the fuck away from my remote community. You shouldn’t be trying to draw down on our limited resources OR potentially introducing COVID here. We’re not risking the lives of our elders to supply you in your pandemic pleasure cruise.

“If there was an outbreak, only one person would be able to get that kind of care in the community,” says Dan Bertrand, a director of the Central Coast Regional District.

Any evacuation from a place like Bella Bella or nearby Klemtu or Rivers Inlet would have to be done by plane, which is highly dependent on weather.

So far the central coast has not seen any cases of COVID-19, but the fear of epidemics runs deep here, where entire villages were once wiped out by foreign diseases brought by outsiders.

“It’s only going to increase, because people are looking to be in places where they feel safe.”

“It’s a scary thought that those numbers could increase exponentially, and we don’t have the resources to take care of them,” Humchitt says. “We hardly have the resources to take care of ourselves.”

Bella Bella is a frequent stopover for yachters navigating the Inside Passage between Seattle and Alaska, and a popular destination in its own right by central coast standards. But it’s not the only community seeing yachters; Bertrand says Rivers Inlet, Ocean Falls and Bella Coola have all been visited as well. In the case of Bella Coola, one person even sped through a checkpoint the Nuxalk First Nation had set up outside the community without slowing down. MORE


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