More than 25 demonstrators gathered on the road outside the BC Ferries terminal in Prince Rupert on April 30 at noon, stopping vehicles that were boarding the vessel destined for Haida Gwaii to tell them the islands are closed to visitors.
“We inform [the vehicles and drivers] that if they are not a resident of Haida Gwaii, they will be met on the other side and turned around. So, it is probably best for them not to get on the ferry,” said Arny Nagy, a member of the Haida Nation living in Prince Rupert.
Nagy said everyone had been respectful and understanding of the message, with only one vehicle, with Alberta licence plates, frustrated at being told to turn around.
“Hopefully the word has gotten out,” he said. “We can’t just leave defending our nation to the sisters and brothers on Haida Gwaii. We have to let the residents know here, so as to avoid any conflict on the island.”
Pansy Collison, Prince Rupert regional representative for the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN), told Black Press Media the vehicle with Alberta licence plates ultimately did not board the ferry and the rest of the vehicles that did board “were all locals.”
Collison also said the purpose of the gathering was to “send a message to everyone that Haida Gwaii is closed” and take “preventative measures to keep the residents of Haida Gwaii safe from COVID-19.”
“The risk is more acute to our elders and our seniors,” she said. “They are our cultural knowledge holders. They carry our language and our culture and our history, so we need to ensure their safety.”
Collison had put a call out on Facebook the day before to Haida people in Prince Rupert, inviting them to join the gathering.
“If you can, please make your own signs, wear your regalia, and pass this to other Haida people and friends to come join us to send a loud message that Haida Gwaii is closed,” the post said.
The CHN, along with the Old Massett Village Council and Skidegate Band Council, had organized a similar demonstration on April 27, on Haida Gwaii, at checkpoints outside the BC Ferries terminal in Skidegate as well as the Haida Heritage Centre.
More than 60 people lined the highway in Skidegate around 2 p.m. that afternoon to ask any visitors arriving via BC Ferries to return to the terminal and leave Haida Gwaii.
Collison told Black Press Media another gathering in Prince Rupert was necessary because there are “still some people, non-residents, who are travelling via BC Ferries to Haida Gwaii.”
“Some people have got the message, but we still have to put the message out there to everyone to restrict the influx of non-essential travellers,” she said.
More demonstrations were planned to stop vehicles entering the Prince Rupert ferry terminal in the future, she added, including one on the evening of May 3 as well as on the May long weekend.
Also on April 30, First Nation and municipal leaders from the North and Central coasts put out a joint press release, including a quote from Haida Nation President Gaagwiis Jason Alsop that said the Haida Nation “will take every measure to prohibit non-essential travel to Haida Gwaii.”
“The federal and provincial governments have a moral obligation to be on the right side of history this time,” Alsop said. “The COVID-19 pandemic, and the extraordinary threats it poses to knowledge, languages, cultures and people is an opportunity towards real reconciliation.
“So far, the province is failing in that responsibility. The Haida Nation will continue to take the actions necessary to protect our Elders, fluent Haida speakers, and communities.”
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