First Nations 'shutting down' B.C.'s Joffre Lakes Park for more than a month

Two First Nations say they're "shutting down" public access to B.C.'s Joffre Lakes Park for more than a month to allow for harvest celebrations.

The Lil'wat and N'Quatqua First Nations say they're asserting their title and rights to shared unceded territory to take time to harvest and gather resources.

They say the park will reopen on National Truth and Reconciliation Day on Sept. 30.

In a statement, the nations say the decision is supported by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that said First Nations' consent is required to use its lands and resources.

The statement dated Wednesday says the goal is to "ensure our well-being for our future" and asks people to honour the decision.

The B.C. Parks website says that due to "unanticipated circumstances," the park is currently inaccessible to the general public and day-use pass and reservation holders have been contacted directly.

The provincial environment ministry says in a statement that it recognizes the sudden closure has impacted people's plans on short notice and has apologized for any inconvenience.

Opposition party BC United has issued a statement criticizing the NDP provincial government, calling the development at Joffre Lake a result of not properly engaging with First Nations communities.

Ellis Ross, BC United MLA for Skeena and former chief councillor at the Haisla Nation, says the park would be open "if negotiations and proper dialogue were taking place behind the scenes."

Environment Minister George Heyman says in a written release that his ministry is working with the Lil'wat and N'Quatqua First Nations to find a solution where public access to the park can be restored while respecting the "space and privacy for cultural activities."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2023.

The Canadian Press