Cowichan Tribes general manager Derek Thompson is photographed in Cowichan Bay, B.C., on January 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Cowichan Tribes general manager Derek Thompson is photographed in Cowichan Bay, B.C., on January 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Racism towards Cowichan Tribes in COVID-19 fight denounced by federal minister

‘I don’t know what more there is to say, it’s disgusting’

Racist comments directed towards a British Columbia Indigenous community fighting a COVID-19 outbreak were denounced Wednesday by federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller.

Miller said he backed local leaders and residents who have spoken up against racism to support the Cowichan Tribes in the Duncan area, about 60 kilometres north of Victoria.

READ MORE: Cowichan Valley leaders condemn COVID-related racism

He said Canadians do not support such behaviour and condemned recent comments posted online that urged area businesses not to serve Indigenous customers.

“I don’t know what more there is to say, it’s disgusting,” Miller said during a news conference in Ottawa. “It’s unacceptable.”

Miller’s comment’s were echoed by B.C. health officials.

“We are deeply saddened by the racist commentary which has arisen within the community in response to the hardship being experienced by Cowichan Tribes,” says an open letter on Wednesday signed by Richard Jock, chief executive officer of the First Nations Health Authority, and Kathy MacNeil, Island Health president and chief executive officer.

The First Nations Health Authority is Canada’s only provincial Indigenous health authority and Island Health is a publicly funded health-care provider for about 850,000 people on Vancouver Island.

Cowichan Tribes, the largest single band in B.C. with 4,900 members, issued a stay-at-home order until Jan. 22 after reporting 73 COVID-19 cases since Jan. 1.

Health officials started administering 600 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to tribal elders 60 years and older on Wednesday, said Derek Thompson, Cowichan Tribes general manager.

He said there was a “good turnout.”

Thompson said racism towards members of the First Nation increased immediately after its public disclosure of the positive cases in the community.

But the community is resilient, said Thompson, adding a newsletter posted Wednesday to the community’s Facebook page calls for unity.

“In a year that challenged us with COVID-19, racism and discrimination, an opioid crisis, and all the familiar issues of suicide, homelessness, addiction and financial instability, it becomes much more urgent to heed the call to consider what you can do individually and what we can do collectively for the good of the community,” says the newsletter.

Local political leaders also called for broad community support to stop the spread of COVID-19.

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said his online post expressing dismay at “fear-based” comments about the COVID-19 outbreak has been viewed about 200,000 times.

He said he applauded the First Nation’s leadership for being open about the state of COVID-19 cases within their community, saying the B.C. government should improve its transparency on reporting cases.

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau, who represents part of the Duncan area in the legislature, said the racist comments and behaviour were unfortunate, but most people in the Duncan area want to work together to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Miller said providing vaccine to elders first will be a boost for the community because when younger people see an elder getting the shot, they’ll say, “If my grandmother can do it, I can do it.”

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Cowichan Tribes

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alex Wenezenki stands by the Robinson R44 Raven II which he uses to offers aerial tours of the Shuswap on behalf of BC Helicopters. The tours began in the summer of 2020 at Hyde Mountain Golf Course. (Jim Elliot/Eagle Valley News)
Shuswap golf course seeks subdivision to accomodate up to 151 lots for RVs

Hyde Mountain Golf Course application will also bring helicopter tour business into compliance

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
253 new COVID-19 cases, 4 more deaths in Interior Health over the weekend

More than 1,000 cases in the region remain active

Interior Health confirms vaccination of priority populations has begun in Salmon Arm. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccinations underway in Salmon Arm

Interior Health confirms vaccination of priority populations has begun

Interior Health and School District 83 are responding to a confirmed COVID-19 exposure at the Salmon Arm Secondary Sullivan campus. (File photo)
COVID-19 virus returns to Salmon Arm Secondary campus

Member of Sullivan campus tests positive for COVID-19

A member of the M.V. Beattie Elementary School community tested positive for COVID-19, according to a statement issued Jan. 17, 2021. (photo submitted)
COVID-19 exposure at Enderby elementary

Member of school community tests positive for virus

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP intercepted an impaired driver Sunday afternoon, Jan. 17, 2021. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Impaired driver pulled off Vernon road thanks to public tip

RCMP Drug Recognition Expert called in for assistance in investigation of Coldstream man

Health-care workers wait in line at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians who have had COVID-19 should still get the vaccine, experts say

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were found to have a 95 per cent efficacy

An empty Peel and Sainte-Catherine street is shown in Montreal, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Poll finds strong support for COVID-19 curfews despite doubts about effectiveness

The poll suggests 59 per cent remain somewhat or very afraid of contracting COVID-19

Classroom chairs (Pixabay photo)
Kelowna elementary school flagged for COVID-19 exposure

Interior Health confirmed an exposure at Black Mountain Elementary School

This is the location, 3240 Skaha Lake Road, of where BC Housing plans to build a four storey supportive housing project for the homeless and at risk of being homeless. (Jesse Day Western News)
Penticton mayor and MLA concerned about new BC Housing project

‘Penticton already has its fair share’ of BC Housing projects

Interior Health declared the COVID-19 outbreak at McKinney Place long term care home over Monday, Jan. 18, 2020. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at McKinney Place care home declared over

‘This has been one of our most challenging outbreaks so far,’ says chief medical health officer

Penticton Bylaw officer Glenn Smith, as well as resident Zak Laycock (not pictured), received the Governor General Award from the Royal Canadian Humane Association to recognize their heroism in a summer 2019 incident. (Contributed)
Bylaw officer and Penticton resident given awards for intervening in sexual assault

Bylaw officer Glenn Smith said he was simply in the right place at the right time

Sunnybank
COVID-19 related deaths at Oliver, West Kelowna and Vernon senior care homes

Sunnybank, Heritage Retirement Residence and Noric House recorded deaths over the weekend

Most Read