Tom Henderson (left) and Evan Henderson (right) stationed at the entrance to the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw reserve near Port Hardy. They’re tasked with making sure only residents and essential workers enter. (Zoë Ducklow)

Kwakiutl First Nation cautiously eases restrictions around COVID-19; Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw to remain locked down for now

Both First Nations near Port Hardy have no COVID-19 cases, and are prioritizing community safety

The Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw First Nation in Port Hardy is maintaining 24-hour security, limiting access to the Tsulquate reserve for residents and essential workers.

About 10 kilometers south in Fort Rupert, the Kwakiutl First Nation ended security at their entrance points on May 21.

Kwakiutl Council is still asking non-essential travellers to stay away. Removing their security posts was part of the “standing down” procedure Emergency Management B.C. has recommended.

Kwakiutl councillor Margaret McDougall said that since B.C.’s head doctor advised people to “double your bubble,” it would be hard to monitor who was allowed on the reserve.

British Columbians can double their ‘pandemic bubble’ mid-May, but no large gatherings

“Until now it was residents only, but a lot of people here have family who live off the reserve,” McDougall said. “I think our community is doing pretty good, they are very aware of what they need to do to stay safe.”

Signage is posted at the entrance to the reserve informing passersby of the policy, and trail cameras are set up at all entrances to the reserve.

In Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw, volunteers are still stationed in pairs from the same household at the entrance bridge in eight-hour shifts, ensuring that the lockdown is respected. Crews of 12 work for four days and then rotate.

Band manager Leslie Dickie said they were waiting to see what happened during the May long weekend before making any changes.

“There was so much movement that weekend, it was like the pandemic was over. But looking at the stats, there were no new cases in Vancouver Island in the last 14 days, so that’s a strong indication that people are doing what it takes,” Dickie said.

READ MORE: Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw School cancels in-class instruction for the remainder of school year due to COVID-19

Council and administration will review the situation at the end of May to determine what changes to implement.Bridge security teams will continue for two months, volunteer Evan Henderson estimated.

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Signage at the entrance to the Kwakiutl First Nation reserve. (Zoë Ducklow)

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