B.C. mayor blasts ‘racist rhetoric’ directed at First Nation amid COVID-19 outbreak

Vancouver Island's Cowichan Tribes are grappling with a COVID-19 outbreak that a neighbouring mayor says has sparked racist comments. Google Street View

A Vancouver Island mayor posted a blistering open letter after observing what he says is unacceptable racism in his community related to COVID-19.

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring took to Facebook Sunday to call out some community members’ response to a COVID outbreak at the Cowichan Tribes First Nation.

Read more: First COVID-19 cases detected on Musqueam reserve

The nation issued a shelter in place order on Wednesday, and said as of Friday it had identified 39 cases in 19 households since the first case cropped up Jan. 1.

Siebring said that information had translated into outwardly racist online posts and an “us/them mentality.”

“I’m angry today. Very angry,” he wrote.

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According to Siebring, some in the community have called for off-reserve businesses to fire any Cowichan Tribes members.

“That folks, is racism. Plain and simple. And it’s wrong.”

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The mayor goes on to laud the Cowichan Tribes for being transparent in releasing information about COVID-19 in its community.

Click to play video 'Concerns about B.C. First Nations not having access to COVID-19 data' Concerns about B.C. First Nations not having access to COVID-19 data
Concerns about B.C. First Nations not having access to COVID-19 data – Dec 17, 2020

That same information is not being released by the province or Island Health, and elected leaders like him do not even have access to it, he said.

“And how is that transparency being rewarded? With racist rhetoric that even has included the notion that ‘those indians’ should just go back to hunting and fishing and be kept segregated from our community.”

Read more: Coronavirus vaccines arrive in remote First Nations across Canada

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“NOT ONCE during (the 10 months before the First Nation had its first case) did we ever hear of Tribes members looking at every non-Indigenous person with the assumption they had COVID.”

The mayor ends his self-described “rant” by asking the community to call out racist comments when they see them.

Read more: Snuneymuxw First Nation declares COVID-19 cluster, issues shelter-in-place order

The Cowichan Tribes shelter in place order remains in effect until Jan. 22, and access to the reserve remains limited to essential visitors.

Members are being urged to get tested if they have symptoms or were in contact with anyone who has tested positive.