Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief Corrina Leween said she was “extremely disappointed” by B.C. Premier John Horgan’s visit to Burns Lake not taking place.
Horgan was expected to fly to Burns Lake on Aug. 21 after his meetings in Prince George to discuss the wildfire situation; however, due to smoke conditions, his plane was unable to land at Baker Airport.
“The possibility of the smoke being too great to land the plane was always present in these conditions, but they wanted to make an attempt to get there anyway; unfortunately, this proved the case,” explained Jen Holmwood, deputy director of communications for the Office of the Premier.
“Due to time limitations, he was unable to make the journey by car,” she continued, adding that the premier had a meeting with the prime minister in Nanaimo that same day.
Chief Leween said local residents are desperately looking for answers.
“We’re really disappointed,” she told Lakes District News. “This is our reality… our eyes are burning, our chests are full of smoke; people are in tears.”
“There are lots of emotions running right now and we’re troubleshooting,” she continued. “We couldn’t even get supplies across to Southside residents until Aug. 21.”
Thanks to a request from Leween, the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako is now granting permits for people to take certain supplies to Southside residents who have chosen to stay behind.
However, even with the permit people are not allowed to go into the Southside - they have to drop these supplies at the Francois Lake Ferry Landing.
“It’s time to erase the red tape in evacuations,” said Leween. “It takes so much time to go through the bureaucracy when we could be concentrating on helping people.”
“We’re going just by common sense; this needs to change,” she continued. “It’s frustrating, and we need to make a plan for next year.”
“The provincial government really needs to look to the future - what do we need to do for next year so we as leaders know how to evacuate. We need to have some support around training on how we do this effectively.”
Leween added that Burns Lake area First Nations have stepped up to the plate to support evacuees, working together to offer food and accommodation at the Burns Lake Band’s Gathering Place.
“I think that’s a good example of how people can work together,” she said, adding that this cooperation could serve as a model for the future.
Burns Lake Band Chief Dan George was also hoping to speak with the premier during his visit. Chief George says First Nations need to have a key role when it comes to making decisions on their respective territories.
“Unfortunately the wildfire situation may become our norm due to climate change; our rural, remote communities are paying the price and face the biggest loss due to wildfires,” he said. “We need more authority and decision making when it comes to the resources and supports needed at community level.”
“Too many departments and agencies are making decisions about us, without us and that needs to change.”