There’s nothing wrong with evicting paying customers from a provincial campground in order to make way for First Nations cultural celebration, a former band chief said Tuesday.
“I think it’s only fair that we have the opportunity to utilize part of our traditional territory,” said Ron Ignace, former chief of the Skeetchestn Indian Band.
“I have no problem with that.”
Ignace said Steve Basil, a member of the Bonaparte Indian Band, organized the three-day event at Juniper Beach campsite near Savona.
As far as Ignace understands it, the park is being closed so area First Nations can celebrate their heritage and remember their ancestors.
“It was one of their fishing grounds,” he said of the Bonaparte people. “I guess they just want to return there.”
Ignace plans to attend the celebration on Saturday so he can learn more about it. He said it’s a good opportunity for representatives from First Nations bands to come together.
As a result, BC Parks staff is asking all guests at Juniper Beach to vacate by noon Friday. They will be allowed to return on Monday.
None of this sits well with the campers, who have accused the First Nations and the province of reverse racism.
The majority of the patrons at this time of the year are seniors, and they’re not happy that they have to move elsewhere, said Marvyn Fitzpatrick, 59, a frequent visitor to Juniper Beach.
He said Juniper Beach is a non-reserve park, meaning no one can book a spot in advance. He wonders if special concessions were made because it’s a First Nations event.
“Why special interests groups? What’s to stop anybody else? My wife is French-Canadian. We should have a French-Canadian cultural event,” said Fitzpatrick.
In an email to The Daily News, Ministry of Environment spokesman Suntanu Dalal said organizations must get the permission of BC Parks prior to organizing events like this.
Invitations were sent out before that was done. Given that 200 people are expected to attend Juniper Beach on the weekend, and in respect of First Nations practices, BC Parks decided it was best to accommodate, said Dalal.
Fitzpatrick understands a portion of the Bonaparte reserve is located in the provincial park, but the terrain is primarily rock and sagebrush and not usable, he said.
But clearing out the campsite so First Nations can hold an event is unfair, said Fitzpatrick.
Dalal said the Bonaparte reserve isn’t a part of the provincial park, but does surround it.
Rates at Juniper Beach are half price for seniors and most young campers are back in school, Fitzpatrick suggested
“It’s part of their routine. The kids are all in school and they scoot out there in their motorhomes.”
Fitzpatrick also questions a comment made by a B.C. Parks official on Monday that guests were first notified about the closure two weeks ago.
He said tearful park operators toured the campsite on Sunday and told people the park would be closed from Sept. 21 to Sept. 23.
Dalal said this isn’t true. BC Parks asked Juniper Beach’s operators to start notifying tenants on Sept. 14 that they would need to vacate.
A notice was posted on the B.C. Parks website for Juniper Beach on Tuesday saying the site will be closed for a special First Nations gathering.
It suggests campers go to provincial sites at Goldpan, Marble Canyon and Skihist to the west, and Steelhead, Tunkwa and Lac le Jeune to the east and south.
Neither Basil nor a representative from the Bonaparte band could be reached for comment. Calls were made to other First Nations bands in the region but not returned.