School District 79 chair Candace Spilsbury, Duncan mayor Michelle Staples, Ladysmith mayor Aaron Stone, Cowichan tribes chief William (Chip) Seymour, MP Alistair MacGregor, MLA Sonia Furstenau, North Cowichan mayor Al Siebring and former CVRD board chair Ian Morrison. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen file)

School District 79 chair Candace Spilsbury, Duncan mayor Michelle Staples, Ladysmith mayor Aaron Stone, Cowichan tribes chief William (Chip) Seymour, MP Alistair MacGregor, MLA Sonia Furstenau, North Cowichan mayor Al Siebring and former CVRD board chair Ian Morrison. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen file)

Column: Cowichan Leadership Group urges community to come together against racism, COVID-19

We are sickened at the racist response of some members of community towards Cowichan Tribes members

Cowichan Leadership Group

The news that Cowichan Tribes members have COVID cases hit us hard. We are worried about the elders and their families. We are saddened by the effect this virus has on community members: a reminder of times when disease wiped out Indigenous communities and when movement on and off reserve was controlled. It is also a reminder that to this day settlers may treat Indigenous peoples as though they do not belong on their own land.

We are sickened at the racist response of some members of this community towards Cowichan Tribes members after hearing the news that there are COVID cases on the reserve.

Cowichan Tribes has issued a shelter-in-place order that asks members to stay at home unless they have an essential reason to leave, such as getting food or medicine, attending work or school off-reserve, going to medical appointments, and shopping for groceries and other essentials.

Theirs is not the only First Nation in this region with cases, nor does the pandemic affect only First Nations in this community. Island Health does not provide COVID-19 numbers at a local level in the same way that First Nations health authorities do, which is why Cowichan Tribes has numbers to release in a way that is different than for the rest of the community.

Island Health staff is conducting contact tracing to ensure cases in this region are contained. The Moderna vaccine will be provided to segments of the community, as decided by health authorities. However, there are not enough vaccines at this time for everyone at risk, and it will be many months before the supply of vaccinations meets the demand. The prioritization of who gets vaccines and when is one of the most difficult challenges as we move forward. We must trust that those in health care are doing the best they can with the information they are given. We must remind each other to be patient and forgiving.

One of the most important things we can do in a crisis is support each other.

Throughout the last 11 months, this community has shown its best self. So many have shown incredible generosity. Non-profit organizations continue to provide food hampers to people in lockdown and families in need. Business owners have donated their facilities and services. Many of our local business owners reported increased sales at Christmas because people chose to support local shops. All of our emergency services have done phenomenal work in responding to the urgent needs in this community.

We have been moved by these acts of kindness. We have been proud at how everyone has been diligent in following the health orders — so diligent that, until January, Cowichan had seen very few cases. Now we need to lean into that empathy, compassion, understanding, and kindness as we navigate this stage of the pandemic, perhaps the most challenging stage yet. We have so many familial ties across this community; whatever is going on in one of our communities affects all of us. We must not tolerate racism, and we all have to play an active role to stop racist words and behaviour. Start by questioning your own assumptions. If you hear or see others engage in racism online or in person, speak up, and support others who speak up too.

We will see cases increase before we see the numbers come back down, and our collective effort can influence how quickly we see those numbers drop. We can continue to follow the COVID guidelines by wearing our masks, maintaining our distance, and sanitizing our hands when we are in public spaces. We can be responsible in sharing information about COVID from credible sources.

Together, we can keep COVID numbers low, with the goal of returning to no cases as soon as possible. This will save lives. We’ve done it before. We can do it again.

Chief William Seymour, Cowichan Tribes

Sonia Furstenau, MLA

Michelle Staples, Mayor, City of Duncan

Al Siebring, Mayor, North Cowichan

Dr. Shannon Waters, Island Health

Alistair MacGregor, MP

Insp. Chris Bear, RCMP

Candace Spilsbury, Board Chair for Cowichan Valley School District

Deborah Saucier, President, Vancouver Island University

Bob Day, Mayor, Town of Lake Cowichan

Aaron Stone, Chair, Cowichan Valley Regional District/Mayor, Town of Ladysmith

ColumnCoronavirusFirst Nations