Campers will be encouraged to leave but not forced from their campsites when First Nations arrive for a cultural celebration at Juniper Beach Friday, the province and event organizer have decided.
“We’re not evicting people. It’s our park. We’re not evicting people,” Environment Minister Terry Lake said Thursday.
But Lake cautioned campers that Juniper Beach isn’t going to be the tranquil spot people expect this weekend.
“People have to know there’s going to be this activity going on. It’s not going to be the quiet weekend people expect out there.”
Steve Basil, a member of the Bonaparte Indian Band, expects a large congregation of area First Nations to arrive at the provincial park campsite near Savona at noon.
His original position was that he wanted all campers out of the 38-site camp, saying he envisions the gathering as a private event with traditional dances and ceremonies.
Basil softened his approach Thursday after a meeting with Lake the afternoon before. He said the written agreement he has with the province gives him the right to use the park, but not evict anyone if they don’t want to leave.
A small group of campers told The Daily News earlier this week that they have no intention of abandoning a campsite they paid for, even if B.C. Parks gives them a refund. The majority of the campers at this time of year are seniors.
If people stay, Basil wants them to know there could be 200 people camping and drumming and singing late into the night.
“It may be kind of tiring for them,” he said, adding campers will not be allowed to observe or take part in any of the ceremonies.
Lake said B.C. Parks staff will be present when Basil and his gathering arrive and will encourage people to go to another park. Anyone who arrives at the park after noon Friday who was not invited by Basil will be turned away.
“We’re going to find other alternatives for them and encourage those who are there to relocate and have a better experience than they might have at no cost to them,” he said.
The B.C. Parks website 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.
Debbie Copper is a frequent camper at Juniper Beach. She’s glad the province and the First Nations came to an agreement and people won’t be forced to leave.
But she said all this could have been avoided had there been better communication and planning from the start.
And she doesn’t understand why the celebration wasn’t held after Juniper Beach closes on Sept. 30.
“This still doesn’t sit well with me. This shouldn’t have happened,” said Cooper.