Tsartlip First Nation chief outraged by Green MLA's post about outbreak

The chief of the Tsartlip First Nation says he’s outraged that a Tsartlip member, Green MLA Adam Olsen, alerted the public to a COVID-19 outbreak in the community — news the First Nation had kept private for fear of racial attacks.

Chief Don Tom said in an interview his community witnessed the “cruel racism” Cowichan Tribes experienced when it declared an outbreak in January and put a shelter-in-place order in effect. Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour has been public about the racism Indigenous members encountered, including being refused service by some local businesses and being unable to get food delivered to the reserve.

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“We chose to not subject Tsartlip members to this and kept our outbreak status private,” said Tom, whose First Nation in Brentwood Bay includes about 1,000 members.

On Tuesday, Olsen, who represents Saanich North and the Islands, posted on social media that as a Tsartlip member and resident, he would receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday. He said he was making the information public because “transparency is critical.”

Olsen also noted in the post that the Tsartlip First Nation had been experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 and had been under a shelter-in-place order for weeks. “As a result, all adults in the Tsartlip community are being vaccinated this week,” said Olsen, explaining the effort was part of a provincial approach to protect Indigenous communities experiencing outbreaks.

Tom called Olsen’s public statements “highly offensive,” accusing him of “grossly” overstepping the bounds of an MLA. The two usually work well together in partnership, he said, expressing surprise and disappointment in the MLA’s actions.

Tom confirmed that Tsartlip First Nation had an outbreak at the end of January — he declined to say how many members had tested positive — and issued a shelter-in-place order on Feb. 8, which he said proved effective in stopping the spread of the virus.

There are currently no active cases of COVID-19 in Tsartlip First Nation. The last positive test was Feb. 6.

Tom called on Olsen to publicly apologize for making the public statements, saying: “Tsartlip has a right to self-determination — we cannot have an MLA misrepresenting our First Nation, and taking liberties to make public statements without consulting Tsartlip.”

Olsen called Tom on Thursday and gave his “unreserved apology” for his public communication. In a statement, he also apologized to every member of the community.

“I have informed Chief Tom, as I am informing you, that while my communication was done with the best of intention, I acknowledge my duty to you as my Chief and Council to properly consult and discuss matters such as this prior to making public comment,” Olsen said in the statement.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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