Cowichan Tribes records first death from COVID-19

Cowichan Tribes has had its first death from COVID-19, Chief William Seymour says.

He does not know at this time who has passed away.

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Cowichan Tribes has been hard hit by the virus this month. As of Jan. 11, there were 70 confirmed cases, with six people recovered, a band spokesperson said earlier. The First Nation is no longer releasing the number of cases after its members faced racism from the broader community.

Seymour has heard complaints from members who have been turned away by stores or unable get food delivered to the reserve. This has also affected those who appear Indigenous but do not live on the reserve.

“I think that’s what started this whole issue — that we have been publishing those numbers. And we were the only ones doing it,” he said.

“So all First Nations have decided we are not going to publish it anymore.”

The province does not release case numbers for individual communities, other than identifying outbreaks in certain facilities, such as long-term care homes.

The outbreak prompted First Nation, the largest in B.C., to impose a shelter-in-place order, in effect until Feb. 5. This is not a lockdown and allows people to leave for reasons such as school and work and for others to arrive to supply goods or provide emergency services.

Members of the provincial NDP and Green Party issued a joint statement on Monday condemning racism directed at members of the Cowichan Tribes.

“We are deeply concerned about the recent reports coming from members of Cowichan Tribes and the mounting reports regarding anti-Indigenous racism from many other Indigenous communities throughout the province,” says the statement.

“We need to stand up to this kind of reprehensible behaviour.”

The statement was released by Murray Rankin, minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, Rachna Singh, parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives, and Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, who is also MLA for the Cowichan Valley.

This is the latest of several public statements by Cowichan Tribes leaders, other local politicians and heads of various agencies in the region speaking out against racism.

A Friday letter from Seymour, Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples and North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring denounces racism and urges local businesses to support all members of the community during the pandemic.

This past weekend, the Cowichan Intercultural Society stated a community car rally and anti-racism panel.

Julie Scurr, president of the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce, called the incidents targeting the First Nation “sickening.”

The chamber is reaching out to its 570 members via newsletter on Thursday and taking part in a joint statement in a local newspaper to speak out against racism.

“To see that it has continued, that anybody who even looks Indigenous is being called out — let’s put it this way, it better not happen when I’m around,” Scurr said.

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