British Columbia continues to battle raging wildfires in dry, dangerous conditions, First Nations chiefs in the central part of the province are reporting.
“You walk out on the land, you walk on grasses and it’s like crunchy snow almost,” said Xaxli’p First Nation Chief Darrell Bob. “There are a lot of people in our communities quite nervous right now with the movement of the fire, and how fast it can move. It’s really impacting our communities big-time.”
The First Nation’s community pavilion had been evacuated as of August 4, Bob told Indian Country Media Network on August 4.
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“It’s really smoky—it’s so smoky you can barely see the mountains,” Bob said, noting that the wildfire area would take four hours to drive through.
The fire plaguing Xaxli’p is the Elephant Hill Fire, which as of August 7 spanned more than 425 square miles and was sending smoke as far south as Seattle, nearly 300 miles away. At least 20 First Nation communities have been affected. On August 4 the Skeetchestn Indian Band was ordered to evacuate, according to its Facebook page.
In the Tsilhqot’in Nation near Williams Lake, Joe Alphonse, Chief of Tl’etinqox First Nation, and Tribal Chairman of the Tsilhqot’in National Government said a visit from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had given him faith in the government’s respect for Indigenous Peoples. That First Nation’s communities are contending with the Hanceville-Riske Creek Wildfire, which has burned 413,807 acres as of Sunday August 6, according to B.C. Wildfire information.
“In one of the most critical times for the Tsilhqot’in Nation, the respect and recognition demonstrated by the Prime Minister was extremely meaningful and positive to witness for the Tsilhqot’in Leadership,” Alphonse said in a statement after meeting with Trudeau and federal ministers and Members of Parliament Harjit Sajjan, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Carla Qualtrough. “We thank the Prime Minister for taking the time to meet with us as we begin to put a true Nation to Nation relationship into action.”
Just days earlier, Tsilhqot’in fire crews had defied an evacuation order and were able to stop a fire just as it reached their community’s doorstep, saving “their homes, communities and their future,” the Nation said in a press release.
“The Tsilhqot’in Leadership were honoured by the respect demonstrated by the Prime Minister and his team in Williams Lake,” the statement said. “This included the acknowledgment of the responsibility and skill demonstrated by the Tsilhqot’in Nation and Leadership in the handling of the wildfires under tremendous stress and the recognition that this emergency highlights that more work needs to be done to work together in true partnership on a Nation to Nation basis. The Tsilhqot’in Leadership are looking forward to a new era in the relationship between the Government of Canada and all Indigenous Nations.”
Since its April 1 start, the wildfire season has seen a total of 1,460,393 acres, or 2,282 square miles, scorched by nearly 900 wildfires in British Columbia—an area larger than the eastern Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, according to CKNW News in B.C.
Bob said climate change was at least partially responsible for the severity of the blazes. While Xaxli’p has a complex fire-management plan in place, more needs to be done to acknowledge and mitigate the effects of climate change.
“It’s a clear sign of the change in times,” Bob told ICMN. “Climate change is everywhere. It’s all over. I think our governments really have to reconsider their approach to a corporate resource extraction. All of this stuff has to be reconsidered. We have to look at climate change and its big impacts.”