Ehattesaht First Nation members struggling in wake of COVID-19 outbreak and repeated power outages

·2 min read

An outbreak of COVID-19 cases, compounded by repeat power outages and abysmal weather, has forced an isolated Vancouver Island Indigenous community into lockdown.

The Ehattesaht First Nation, home to about 100 people, is located on the northwest coast of the island near Zeballos, B.C. On Nov. 14, one positive case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the community following a four day power outage. Within a week, there were 16 cases and now half the residents are in isolation.

"We are learning some hard lessons and the best advice we can give to communities like ours is just to stay home — it's the only way we can keep people safe," said Chief Simon John in an interview on CBC's On The Island.

John says while no one has been hospitalized yet, some people have been moved into hotels to be closer to medical services if they should need them.

The North Island Hospital in Campbell River is almost three hours away by car. And the road in and out of Ehattesaht territory, which, John says, is well-maintained by the Ministry of Forests, can still easily be blocked by a downed tree or two.

Village of Zeballos
Village of Zeballos

And it's a distinct possibility right now, as the region has been repeatedly battered by high winds and stormy weather in recent days, causing the community to already lose power twice while people are dealing with the impact of the virus.

Environment Canada issued another wind warning for B.C.'s north coastal region Monday, warning that winds of up to 100 km/h are a possibility until Tuesday.

COVID-19 exposing other issues

John said people in the community have rallied to provide food and what care they can for people isolated at home. He said the current situation may have a silver lining in that the pandemic is exposing issues the nation has been up against for years.

"It's a really good time to move a lot of our situations forward. Like, our health or even our connectivity to the world could change because of this," said John, adding he hopes the B.C. and Canadian government take notice and help.

That help, he said, could include improving hydro and internet connections, as well as access to health services.

John said the nation would also like to look at options to expand its land base so it can add more housing for its members. At present, he said many people are isolating in close quarters together.

Four people in the community have recovered from COVID-19 so far, according to John.

To hear the complete interview with Chief Simon John on CBC's On The Island, tap the audio link below: