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

Bowen Byram played for the Vancouver Giants and makes his NHL debut Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. (Vancouver Giants/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Langley-based Giants watching Byram’s NHL debut tonight closely

Bowen Byram played for the Giants for several years before being drafted by the Avalanche

U.S. politician Bernie Sanders sits on top of the horse clock. (Brenda Norrie/Special to The News)
U.S. politician Bernie Sanders pops up in Maple Ridge

Maple Ridge residents get in on the meme action

The BC Hydro Dam at Alouette Lake. (The News files)
Alouette Lake boaters may be left high and dry

Hydro plans may bring down water levels of Maple Ridge lake in future summers

(Black Press Media files)
Snowfall expected for Lower Mainland on Saturday night, Sunday morning

2 to 5 cm of snow predicted Metro Vancouver, according to Environment Canada

Jim Graham caught the sunrise Tuesday, Jan. 19 along the Fraser River looking toward Mount Baker. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Sunrise over the Fraser River

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Most Read