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

This image shows the Kitsumkalum community hall. The First Nation is about to head to the polls to elect a new council. (Brittany Gervais/Terrace Standard)
All-candidates forum planned for Kitsumkalum election

Virtual meeting set for evening of Feb. 8

Kitselas First Nation received a round of COVID-19 vaccine shots. (Kitselas First Nation image)
Kitselas receives COVID-19 vaccine

Delivery of vaccine was expedited after cluster of cases in community

Northern Health has issued COVID-19 exposure notices for Uplands Elementary School and Centennial Christian School in Terrace. (COVID-19/ CDC Image)
Two more COVID-19 exposure notices issued for schools in Terrace

Exposures took place at Uplands Elementary School and Centennial Christian School

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

(Kraft Dinner/Twitter)
Kraft Dinner launches candy-flavoured mac and cheese just in time for Valentine’s Day

Sweet and cheesy treat will be here just in time for the cheesiest holiday of the year

SAR crews worked late into the night Tuesday to rescue an injured snowboarder in North Vancouver. (Facebook/North Shore Rescue)
Complicated, dangerous rescue saves man in avalanche near Cypress Mountain

North Shore SAR team braves considerable conditions to reach injured snowboarder

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
UPDATE: No sign of small plane that went down in waters south of Vancouver Island

Searchers out on both sides of border between Victoria and Port Angeles

In this undated image made from a video taken by the Duke of Sussex and posted on @SaveChildrenUK by the Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, shows the Duchess of Sussex reading the book “Duck! Rabbit!” to their son Archie who celebrates his first birthday on Wednesday May 6, 2020. The Canadian Paediatric Society is reminding families that the process of raising a reader starts from birth. (Duke of Sussex/@SaveChildrenUK)
Canadian Paediatric Society says raising a reader starts from birth

CPS says literacy is one of the strongest predictors of lifelong health outcomes

Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough responds to a question during a news conference Thursday August 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Easing rules for parental benefits created inequities among parents, documents say

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office says the government will make any necessary changes

People walk along a pedestrianized zone of Sainte-Catherine street in Montreal, Monday, May 18, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. Newly released statistics point to a major drop in police-recorded crime during the first eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Crime down in first 8 months of pandemic, but mental health calls rise: StatCan

The agency says violent crimes such as assault dropped significantly

Cowichan Tribes chief Squtxulenhuw (William Seymour) confirmed the first death in the First Nations community from COVID-19. (File photo)
Cowichan Tribes confirms 1st death amid growing COVID-19 outbreak

Shelter-in-place order has been extended to Feb. 5

(Pixabay)
B.C. teacher gets 1 day suspension after ‘aggressively’ throwing dumbbell at student

Documents show the weight would have hit the student if they didn’t catch it

Most Read