Island mayor condemns racism against First Nation hit hard by COVID-19

·3 min read

The mayor of North Cowichan has come out swinging on social media in a strongly worded post slamming what he is calling fear-based racist comments directed at a First Nations community that's been ravaged by COVID-19.

The Cowichan Tribes, located between Victoria and Nanaimo, B.C., had 39 cases of COVID-19 identified among its 5,000 members as of Jan. 8 and the community is currently under a shelter in place order issued by chief and council until Jan. 22.

Mayor Al Siebring took to Facebook on Sunday to express his concern and outrage over racist rhetoric he says he has seen directed at nation members online.

"Some of the posts I've seen are vile; filled with racism and an 'us/them' mentality. They are fear based and they are inappropriate," wrote the mayor.

Facebook/Cowichan Tribes
Facebook/Cowichan Tribes

Speaking Monday to Gregor Craigie, host of CBC's On The Island, Siebring said there has not been an onslaught of racial messages, but even one is one too many.

"Let's treat everybody kindly," said Siebring, adding he does want to hear about First Nations people being ostracized in public or online because the community has been so forthcoming about their COVID numbers.

"The First Nations Health Authority has the authority, and they are using it, to be very transparent," said Siebring, adding municipal leaders are not able to be so transparent because regional health authorities do not provide them with detailed locations of where cases have been found.

He would like to see that information provided by the province, saying it would help take the focus off First Nations communities.

"This virus is no respector of persons or of 'race.' It does not discriminate. And neither should we," said Siebring's post.

Click here to read Mayor Siebring's complete post.

What the shelter-in-place order means

For the next two weeks, all Cowichan Tribes members must stay home and leave only for work, school, medical appointments, essential shopping or to care for an ill family member. One household member should be designated to do the shopping and members are encouraged to have items delivered.

As per the current provincial restrictions, and reiterated by tribal leadership in the order, there are to be no gatherings of people from different households whatsoever.

All reserve lands have now been designated as restricted and non-members may only be on them if they are an authorized occupant, the spouse or family member of a tribal member, conducting urgent repairs, delivering goods, caring for an authorized occupant, or providing first responder or other essential services at the tribe's request.

"Our teachings — our Snuw'uy'ulh — teach us to help one another and work together for the good of all," wrote Chief William Seymour in a social media post directed to tribal members.

Members who feel sick can be tested at the local COVID-19 assessment centre located at 5151 Polkey Rd. in Duncan, B.C. Appointments can be made by calling 1-844-901-8442.