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)

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)

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

‘We are sickened at the racist response of some members of community’

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.

RELATED: ‘Vile; filled with racism’: Officials condemn reaction to COVID outbreak

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

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

ColumnCoronavirusFirst Nations

Just Posted

Royston resident and photographer Tanja Kerr took a quick video of two eagles taking a quick dip in the water earlier this week. Video still/Tanja Kerr
Video: Doing some eagle watching in Royston

Photographer Tanja Kerr ensures her camera is always nearby

'I swear that dog is being good,' says photo submitter Karen Jackson.
Vancouver Island looking for a few good caring canine companions

ElderDog’s goal to expand program of assisting older adults in the care and well-being of their dogs

Paige Karczynski is the new executive director of Nanaimo Community Hospice Society. (Photo submitted)
Providing hospice in a time of pandemic

Vancouver Island hospices forced to adapt during a time when grief counselling greatly needed

Kimberly Proctor, 18, was murdered in 2010. Her family has spent many of the years since pushing for a law in her honour, that they say would help to prevent similar tragedies. (Courtesy of Jo-Anne Landolt)
Proposed law honouring murdered B.C. teen at a standstill, lacks government support

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has concerns with involuntary detainment portion of act

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All Island seniors in long-term care will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

Actions of Vancouver Island RCMP emergency response team members prevented a potential head-on collision accident on the Trans-Canada Highway on Jan. 19, says Nanaimo RCMP. (News Bulletin file)
Eight cars evade vehicle driving on wrong side of highway, says Nanaimo RCMP

Incident occurred near Trans-Canada Highway-Morden Road intersection earlier this week

A COVID-19 exposure has been reported at Shawnigan Lake School. (Citizen file photo)
Island Health reports COVID-19 exposure at Shawnigan Lake School

Shawnigan Lake School has been added to the list of schools in… Continue reading

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after the theft of a generator worth thousands of dollars. Photo supplied
RCMP asking Vancouver Island residents to watch for stolen generator

Vehicle may have been travelling on Highway 19

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

Most Read