North Cowichan mayor slams racist posts against Cowichan Tribes

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring is lambasting “vile” and “racist” online posts as the Cowichan Tribes First Nation takes action against a COVID-19 outbreak.

In a letter published on his Facebook page on Sunday, Siebring said he is “very angry” about what he has been seeing on social media in the past few days.

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“I’m disappointed. And I’m pissed off.”

The First Nations Health Authority announced the outbreak, he said, adding that as of Saturday, there were 45 active cases.

On Wednesday, Cowichan Tribes announced a shelter in place order, limits on events and other measures to curtail the spread of the virus, including barriers regulating access to the reserve. It was approved by chief and council and runs until Jan. 22.

“This is a critical time for each of us to do our part to limit the spread of the virus and to remain calm and be kind to one and other,” Cowichan Tribes said in a statement.

By Sunday evening, Siebring’s post had received more than 1,900 “likes” and 380 comments, largely thanking him for speaking out and calling for unity. It had been viewed 86,000 times.

One woman wrote, “There is a lot of people that need to hear this. My support and love goes out to all members of the Cowichan Tribes.

Another person said, “The Cowichan Tribes are doing exactly what they are supposed to do during a pandemic. Good on them and thank you for doing your part during this time of prolonged crisis.”

And another poster wrote, “Right on, Mayor Siebring! Let ‘em have it! There is no place in this life for blind hate … it is poison … pure and simple.”

Siebring said the outbreak has resulted in inappropriate responses including demands that off-reserve employers fire First Nations workers who may come into contact with the broader community, purely on the basis that they are Cowichan Tribes members.

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

Cowichan Tribes is being completely transparent about their numbers, more so than Island Health, he said.

The reward is racist rhetoric, he said.

“For 10 months, COVID was present in the non-First Nations community. The first case among Cowichan Tribes wasn’t identified until New Year’s Day.

“But not once during that 10-month period did we ever hear of Tribes members looking at every non-Indigenous person with the assumption that they had COVID.

“We didn’t hear any calls for all white people to stay away from their jobs until the pandemic is over.

“I didn’t see a single social media post or news article where Cowichan Tribes members were complaining that it was ‘those white people’ who were spreading the virus all over the Island.

“And yet, now that the numbers have changed, that’s the kind of rhetoric we’re starting to see. Folks, we are better than this. And it has to stop.”

The virus does not discriminate on race, Siebring said. “And neither should we.”

He asks that anyone who sees that kind of comment to call it out for what it is.

“Let’s be kind and understanding, and not promote divisions in our community.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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