An Indigenous leader says members of the Lytton First Nation were left to fend for themselves as they fled a fire that destroyed their communities.

LYTTON (NEWS 1130) — An Indigenous leader says members of the Lytton First Nation were left to fend for themselves after they fled a fire that destroyed their communities.
An evacuation order for Lytton and the surrounding area was issued Wednesday, with many narrowly escaping as the fire destroyed their homes and levelled 90 per cent of the village. Evacuees continue to search for their loved ones, with preliminary reports saying at least two people died. The fire continues to burn Friday, with crews unable to fully assess the extent of what has been lost.
The five Nlakapamux Nation Tribal Council member communities are Lytton, Skuppah, Nteqem (Oregon Jack Creek), Boothroyd and Spuzzum, located in the Fraser Canyon near Boston Bar, Cache Creek, Yale and Lytton.
Chief Matt Pasco is Chair of the Nlakapamux Nation Tribal Council, and says staff were speaking with officials in Lytton when the order to flee came down.
“In the first couple of minutes when the evacuation started some of our staff, tribal staff, were on phone calls, meetings with people in Lytton, when they were immediately told to leave. Some of them barely got out as the fire was just roaring through town, and through the reserves,” he explains.
From the start, Pasco says the province’s response was “woefully inadequate,” with no communication from either Emergency Management BC (EMBC) or from the Thompson Nicola Regional District (TNRD).
“We got no help, or no communication to speak of from EMBC or TNRD,” he says.
John Haugen, acting chief of Lytton First Nation told me this morning there were members of his community still unaccounted for. People need shelter, places to rest, lay their head down + be able to connect w/ family members that theyre looking for.
Monika Gul (@MonikaGul) July 2, 2021
As members of the Lytton First Nation travelled to Kamloops, the critical work of securing places for them to stay, and establishing an evacuation centre was done by council leadership.
“They wanted to go to Kamloops, and there was no mustering station or place where they could congregate in Kamloops. we were trying to get ahold of EMBC and TNRD and got no response,” he says, adding the council then reached out directly to the Tkemlups te Secwepemc First Nation.
“They immediately offered up the powwow grounds, to their credit, and so I sent staff there, and then we put out notices through Facebook and various measures to tell people to go to the powwow grounds.”
‘We took care of them’
However, Pasco said members leaving town weren’t getting this information, and were instead told to go to the Sandman Centre.
“I sent staff there through the night. The place was dark and locked up. Nobody was there. Our staff were going through there and funnelling these individuals who were in shock and in need of shelter. We took care of them. We were taking care of traumatized people who had lost everything, and some of them were in Kamloops,” he says.
“We purchased every hotel room we could find in Kamloops. Our tribal council funded all of that at the time, and put people into those. And it wasn’t until the next day — late morning, early afternoon — when EMBC finally showed up to provide some help. If it wasn’t for us driving around having a coordinated approach — a very thoughtful coordinated approach — these people would have been walking around and unsure what to do, and what would happen for hours and hours and hours.”
Pasco is a rancher, his property located between Ashcroft and Spences Bridge. It’s far enough away that he was not ordered to evacuate, but close enough that it’s possible the fire could reach it if it is not brought under control.
“I can’t even see to the end of into my field here. We are thick in the smoke,” he says.
“There’s a lot of concern here and there should be, I mean it’s not insurmountable for that fire to get here.”
‘Our people are considered after cattle’
Still, when he received a call from the province on Thursday morning, offering support and assistance if his cattle were threatened, he says he was shocked.
“Essentially, the system made sure that my cattle were going to be fine, but never once phoned me to help out in the movement of our people in the safeguarding of our people,” he explains, describing the province’s failure to consider Indigenous communities and people an example of a systemically racist response system.
“This has to stop it must stop. Our people are considered after cattle. We’ve got a long ways to go. I don’t want to downplay the importance of cattle as a resource and its impact on any one rancher, but they were immediately coordinated to take care of non Indigenous issues, and did nothing to help us.”
Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth says officials were coordinating a tactical evacuation on very short notice.
“What we want to ensure is that communications are working the way they’re supposed to, and we are absolutely committed to ensuring that that happens,” he tells NEWS 1130.
“We’re working as hard as we can and obviously we work very closely with First Nations to ensure we’ve got the best communication possible.”
Pasco says Farnworth’s comments show the province’s indifference, and further illustrate the issues he is raising.
“People who make those kinds of statements, I don’t want them leading emergencies that I’m in. I would rather have people like on our team that under times of deep duress, in tough times, they step up and they handle the issues as they come and they find remedies to some terrible issues, which in this case included the fact of the province never showed up for a very long time,” he says.
“The real underlying problem in all of this is the fact that B.C. does not recognize our Indigenous governments and the roles that we can play to protect our communities, plain and simple. Everything that this province is founded on needs to be fundamentally challenged and changed.”