The Tsilhqot’in emergency center is still possible with the renewal of the agreement

Much of the work planned under the agreement with British Columbia and Ottawa after the 2017 fire season remains unfinished

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Five years after devastating wildfires swept through British Columbia’s central interior, efforts to engage the Tslihqot’in Nation in emergency management have led to some progress, but a key demand for a center of regional urgency remains unmet.

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After signing a renewed five-year emergency management agreement with the province and Ottawa on Wednesday, Tsilhqot’in Nation President Joe Alphonse said there’s still a lot of work to be done.

He, other Tsilhqot’in chiefs and provincial and federal officials were in Vancouver to sign the renewed agreement.

The emergency center is intended to serve, among other things, as a training center and an evacuation center.

Alphonse said the coronavirus pandemic has slowed progress, but they want to continue work to create the facility and find the sources to cover its expenses.

“The bigger the building, the better. The more expensive the better, the more technology the better. … What is the province, what is Canada ready to do? said Alphonse.

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Noting that this was a long-standing request from the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation for the Tsilhqot’in, British Columbia, Murray Rankin, said the province is committed to providing options to fund the next stage of a feasibility study and design of the proposed emergency center.

“We’re certainly in dialogue on that specific point,” Rankin said.

The collaborative agreement aims to strengthen the role and capacity of the Tsilhqot’in in emergency management operations based on their experience and knowledge of their territory, strengthen the training of Indigenous firefighters, and improve the coordination and communication by the province.

Progress has been made in emergency response, community capacity building and improving the financial reimbursement process, the parties said.

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The parties said they were also working on medium- and long-term infrastructure spending, such as fire stations.

More than $2.5 million has been pledged with the new agreement, including $1.475 million from the federal government and $1.12 million from the provincial government.

In 2017, the Tslihqot’in accused the province of not paying enough attention to its emergency needs and one of its communities, the Tl’etinqox First Nation, refused to evacuate despite wildfires. who surrounded him.

At the time, community leader Alphonse said in an exchange with an RCMP officer that the community would set up its own blockade if the police tried of strength to evacuate people, including children.

The BC Liberal government at the time criticized the First Nation’s position, but emotions subsided and Indigenous firefighters in the community eventually began working with BC Wildfire Service crews.

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Throughout, Alphonse remained adamant that they were staying, saying he believed they received more resources because of this very decision.

He also said staying and fighting the fires was good for the community and it was important to protect a recently rebuilt church and health center and their homes.

Alphonse said at the time: “It gives everyone a role – to step up and fight for the community. It will give people the confidence to fight for other issues, maybe social issues. Staying in the community is only positive for us.

In 2019, a Tslihqot’in report on the 2017 wildfire season noted that the collaborative agreement was a crucial first step in recognizing the Nation’s leadership in emergency management.

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The report concluded, however, that further detailed agreements were needed to ensure that all parties understand the roles and responsibilities of all levels of legitimate government in a way that enables real-time emergency response. fully coordinated and multi-agency.

The report sets out 33 calls to action, including developing a centralized Indigenous-led emergency center in Tsilhqot’in territory with satellite sites and building or upgrading fire stations in each community equipped fire trucks, training and storage spaces.

Recommendations also included the construction of assembly halls/safe assembly areas, improvements to Highway 20 in the territory, including cell towers, and fuel reduction, such as prescribed burns in forests. to reduce the risk of forest fires.

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