The Tsilhqot’in emergency center remains possible thanks to the renewal of the emergency management agreement with BC, Canada

Much of the work laid out in the agreement with BC, Ottawa after the 2017 fire season remains incomplete

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Five years after devastating wildfires swept through central BC, efforts to engage the Tslihqot’in Nation in emergency management have led to some progress, but a key demand for a regional emergency center remains unfulfilled. .

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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 much work remains to be done.

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

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

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

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

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Noting that this was a longstanding request from Tsilhqot’in, BC Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin said the province is committed to advancing options to fund the next stage of a feasibility study and design the proposed emergency center.

“We are certainly in dialogue on that very point,” Rankin said.

The collaboration agreement aims to provide an enhanced role and capacity for the Tsilhqot’in in emergency management operations based on their experience and knowledge of their land, strengthen the training of indigenous firefighters, and improve coordination and communication from the province.

Progress has been made in emergency response, increased community capacity and an improved financial reimbursement process, the parties said.

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The parties said they are also working on medium- to long-term infrastructure spending, such as fire rooms.

More than $2.5 million was pledged under the new deal, including $1.475 million from the federal government and $1.12 million from the provincial government.

In 2017, the Tslihqot’in had accused the province of not paying enough attention to their emergency needs and one of their communities, the Tl’etinqox First Nation, refused to evacuate despite wildfires all around them.

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

BC’s then Liberal government criticized the First Nation’s position, but emotions died down and eventually indigenous firefighters from the community began working with BC Forest Fire Service crews.

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Throughout, Alphonse was adamant that they would stay, saying that he believed they had received more resources because of that very decision.

He also said that staying and fighting the fires was good for the community, and that 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 confidence to fight for other problems, maybe social problems. Staying in the community is positive for us.”

In 2019, a Tslihqot’in report on the 2017 bushfire season He noted that the collaboration agreement was a crucial first step in recognizing the nation’s leadership in emergency management.

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However, the report concluded that more detailed agreements were needed to ensure that all parties understood the roles and responsibilities of all legitimate levels of government in a way that would allow for a fully coordinated, multi-agency, real-time emergency response.

The report featured 33 calls for action, including the development of a centralized indigenous-led emergency center in the Tsilhqot’in territory with satellite sites and the construction or improvement of fire rooms in each community equipped with fire trucks, spaces training and storage.

Also among the recommendations were the construction of secure meeting rooms/assembly areas, the improvement of Highway 20 into the territory, including cell phone towers, and the reduction of fuel, such as prescribed burns in the forests to reduce the risks of forest fires.

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