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First Nations jointly shut down Joffre Lakes Park for harvest celebration

Two First Nations are temporarily shutting down access to Joffre Lakes Park. Kier Junos reports the first nations say they’re asserting their rights to unceded territory to gather resources.

On Aug. 23, Lil’wat Nation and N’Quatqua First Nation announced they are jointly shutting down public access to Joffre Lakes Park for a harvest celebration.

The month-long closure of the park, 35 kilometres east of Pemberton, is happening in a time of reconciliation to assert their Title and Rights to their unceded territory, the Nations said.

“Joffre Lakes Park is located within the shared, overlapping unceded traditional territory of the Lil’wat Nation and N’Quatqua First Nation,” the Nations said in a joint statement. “These lands have been used and occupied by the Lil’wat and N’Quatqua since time immemorial.”

The closure means day pass and backcountry camping access have both been cancelled for the forseeable future.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change George Heyman said his ministry is currently searching for a compromise, but it won’t come before the month is up.

“My ministry is actively working with the Lil’wat and N’Quatqua First Nations to find a solution that will provide space and privacy for cultural activities while ensuring public access to the park in a responsible and sustainable manner,” Heyman said in a statement.

The Joffre Lakes Park Visitor Use Management Strategy states that supporting the Nations’ traditional use activities and ensuring there are opportunities for the Nations’ ceremonial activities, are part of its goals for the park.

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In their joint statement, the Nations also referred to paragraph 73 of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the Tsilhqot’in v. British Columbia case, as confirmation “that First Nation consent is required for the use of its aboriginal title lands and resources.”

“Aboriginal title confers ownership rights similar to those associated with fee simple, including: the right to decide how the land will be used; the right of enjoyment and occupancy of the land; the right to possess the land; the right to the economic benefits of the land; and the right to pro-actively use and manage the land,” the Supreme Court stated in its decision.

Their rights and title are also protected under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, the Nations added.

During this time, the Nations said they plan to harvest and gather resources within their territories.

The closure will last until National Truth and Reconciliation Day on Sept. 30.

-With files from Kier Junos

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