Tsilhqot’in Nation and UBC researchers release comprehensive COVID-19 report

·3 min read

A new comprehensive report documenting experiences of the Tsilhqot’in Nation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic identifies 40 calls-to-action for all levels of government to bring about a strong recovery.

The 136-page report generated in partnership with the Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG) and University of British Columbia (UBC) was released Thursday (March 18), one year after a provincial state of emergency was declared.

“Last month, our Nation, along with the Heiltsuk Nation and Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council negotiated a COVID-19 information-sharing agreement with the Provincial Health Office that improves health data sharing related to COVID-19 cases in nearby communities,” TNG tribal chair Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Joe Alphonse said in a news release.

“While that is a start, it isn’t the end of the conversation. Racism has piled on to our challenges during the pandemic.”

The Tsilhqot’in title of the report when translated to English means “I am going to tell you about a very bad disease.”

Since he declared a provincial state of emergency, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said the strength, resiliency and resources of British Columbians have been tested.

“Now with vaccine delivery ramping up, we have new hope for better times ahead, but that doesn’t dismiss the difficulties this past year has brought, particularly the challenges it brought to Indigenous communities who we know have been disproportionately impacted.”

The report’s recommendations build from the Tsilhqot’in wildfire report, The Fires Awakened Us, released in 2019.

They address the ongoing need for recognition of inherent Indigenous jurisdiction in emergency response and recovery, improved health data sharing during a public health emergency, long-term funding to address mental health issues that have worsened as a result of the pandemic, and response to systemic racism in emergency management and healthcare.

The need to build on reports released last year by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond (In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in BC Health Care) and United Nations (Report on the impact of COVID-19 on the rights of Indigenous Peoples) is also identified.

“We know we need to continue to sit down together and discuss where things are working and where we need to better,” Farnworth said, noting that was why the first-of-its-kind tripartite emergency management agreement was created following the ‘catastrophic’ 2017 wildfire season.

One of the most distressing outcomes of the pandemic for TNG vice-chair Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Otis Guichon has been the impacts it has had on mental health.

“COVID-19 restrictions such as isolation measures have taken a toll, and we have seen addictions worsen such as the abuse and overuse of drugs and alcohol and increased incidents of domestic violence,” Guichon stated.

“This past fall, we lost three of our youth within six weeks to overdoses and it’s just not right when we tragically lose our young people like that.”

Guichon believes COVID-19 will have lasting effects on the Tsilhqot’in Nation physically, mentally, spiritually and economically.

Assistant professor at UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law, Dr. Jocelyn Stacey, who helped co-author the report, said much work remains to be done to realize a true partnership between the Tsilhqot’in Nation, B.C. and Canada on emergency management and commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said they would be looking at ways to strengthen their partnership and support the emergency management needs of the Tsilhqot’in Nation moving forward.

Rebecca Dyok, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Williams Lake Tribune