Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, with two Indigenous neighbourhoods located on Long Beach, has restricted access to residents only. (Nora O’Malley photo)

Island’s Pacific Rim First Nations pro-active in dealing with COVID-19

“We are in it for the long haul.”

As of April 1, the Island Health region had 72 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the total number of cases in B.C. has climbed to 1,066.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has not singled out any cases in Indigenous communities in her daily reporting, and, due to privacy considerations results will not be communicated, notes a statement from First Nations Health Authority (FNHA).

The Ministry of Health, FNHA, Emergency Management B.C. and Indigenous Services Canada are working together to identify needs and gaps to ensure Indigenous communities are well-supported in managing any outbreaks that may occur.

Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser said these are challenging times and that everyone is in this together.

“Indigenous communities, many of which are in isolated areas, require specific considerations as we support the response everywhere in the province to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” he said in an email.

“We are working with First Nations and agencies across the provincial and federal governments to make sure all of us are doing what is needed to best support Nations. Our priority is to support First Nations communities in their preparations to be as safe as possible, so that everyone is protected and ready to respond. I’m also really encouraged by the collaboration we are seeing between businesses and First Nations to take proactive steps to protect and support Indigenous employees and ensure essential services and supplies continue to reach First Nations communities.”

Cermaq, an aquaculture operation with several fish farms in Clayoquot Sound, employs many people from Ahousaht First Nation. Both the federal and provincial governments have recognized fish farms as an essential service, and Cermaq started to address the Covid-19 pandemic through changes in policies and procedures on March 2.

“We have made modifications to our internal processes and procedures to address this dynamic situation, and we will continue to monitor and evolve as circumstances continue to change,” stated Cermaq Canada.

Ahousaht, a 30-minute boat ride from Tofino, was one of the first Indigenous communities on Vancouver Island to close its borders to non-residents as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19 on March 16.

“Ahousaht First Nation are our friends, neighbours and colleagues. We are in constant communication with, and taking direction from the Nation’s leadership. We will continue to work with the Ahousaht First Nation and adjust as required to ensure we are supporting overall community health,” Cermaq stated.

Ahousaht First Nations director of emergency operations, Curtis Dick, posts regular social media updates to relay information to Ahousaht residents.

On March 28, he encouraged residents to stay put and stay home.

“We are still not in the clear from COVID-19 and I want to make sure you guys take care of yourselves. We are in it for the long haul. This is not going to be a short-term thing. It may be months that we may be doing this,” he said.

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation has also barricaded the entrance to its three communities located on Long Beach and Ucluelet First Nations, located across the harbour from the municipality of Ucluelet, is restricting access to its community to residents only.

On March 22, Ucluelet First Nations president Chuck McCarthy posted a message on social media to the Nation.

“What is most relevant is this – let’s unite now and focus on fighting a common enemy, which we cannot see but we know it’s coming. The knowledge keepers of our oral history and our fluent speakers are the most vulnerable, but in the end we are all vulnerable. Let’s not forget that and stand up and take a stand for our nation and get through this. This is a plea for our citizens close and near take this seriously and be safe,” wrote McCarthy.

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READ: Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, other First Nations mobilize resources

COLUMN: Stepping away from the ordinary: Self-isolation on Ahousaht

READ: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations members stop visitors en route to Tofino and Ucluelet

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