Penticton Indian Band Chief Chad Eneas speaks to changes, initiatives amid COVID-19 pandemic. (Phil McLachlan - Western News - File)

Land access amid COVID-19 a topic of concern for Penticton Indian Band members

Pandemic causes increased traffic on band land; monitoring increased, gates considered

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges for many, including smaller communities like the Penticton Indian Band (PIB).

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the group has faced many challenges, some unique to them, and some similar to what other First Nations groups around the province are experiencing.

For weeks chief and council have been working to support their community and ensure their roughly 1,100 members stay safe.

These including several initiatives including establishing a drive-thru food station for members only, increasing distribution of their newsletters, delivering food to households in need and more.

Chief Chad Eneas explained the PIB’s Emergency Operations Centre staff have been meeting regularly to stay updated with provincial measures, as well as local news regarding COVID-19.

“We’ve been quite fortunate to not have any confirmed cases within our community, and we’re not really planning to ease any kind of restriction until we have a little bit of certainty around what the risks are for some of our elders and people who may have immune deficiencies, health issues,” he said.

“So we do absolutely want to maintain safety and still try to get through this season of flooding, so that we can have some harmony in the community, and some assurances that we are taking care of each other.”

READ MORE: B.C. records 170 ‘excess deaths’ so far during COVID-19 pandemic

With no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among PIB members, chief and council are making moves to ensure it stays this way. Gates are being considered as a way to protect their members and reduce the amount of outside traffic through their community.

Since the pandemic began, the PIB has seen a large increase in outside traffic.

“With people having so much time away from work, there’s been increased activity in terms of quading and motorbiking on the reserve,” said Eneas. “So we’ve increased our guardian program to include evening shifts and weekend shifts and weekend shifts to try to inform people on whether or not they have permission to be our and about on our land.”

In addition cameras have been put in place to try and monitor this.

Eneas explained that many of their members are more susceptible to diseases and auto-immune deficiencies, which combined with many generations living in the same house, adds to the cumulative effects and risks of COVID-19, he said.

“We have been talking about the what ifs,” Eneas said. “We are looking at putting in an taking steps toward trying to manage access to the reserve. We are looking at gates at this time, but right now we’re really trying to be prepared for any kind of emergency that we need to deal with.

“If by some way, shape or form, if the threats do increase for people being exposed to COVID, we are talking about protecting our community. That’s one way we can do it.”

Discussions surrounding what this might look like, Eneas said are ongoing, but right now the PIB is asking members of the public to maintain proper physical distancing and respect their community’s desires around keeping people safe.

“At the end of the day that’s really what it comes down to; individual responsibility to not be causing undue harm or stress because that doesn’t help the situation,” said the chief.

This increase in traffic, which Eneas says is also affecting and damaging the surrounding environment, is being investigated by the band.

“We live in Canada’s hot spot for species at risk, and any damages that are done with sensitive habitat, at this time, it could lead to extirpation or extinction for some species,” said Eneas.

“We are going to ask the public to not be ripping around up in the mountains on the reserve lands or anywhere close to the reserve lands, because we are very concerned… I think we all have a responsibility to make sure that our kids can witness and experience the polar bear, the caribou, the salmon here in the Okanagan.

“I think by tearing up the land, that doesn’t really show any kind of responsibility or respect for those things that can’t speak for themselves.”

READ MORE: Oliver parks remain open during COVID-19

READ MORE: Okanagan motorcyclists spread positivity, one retirement home at a time

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