Comment: Racist responses in Cowichan must stop

A commentary by the mayor of North Cowichan, as posted on social media.

This is a very difficult post to write.

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It’s difficult because, as mayor, there is an expectation that I colour inside the lines; that I don’t use language that is too “strong,” and that my communication with community be reasoned and not filled with hyperbole, anger or divisive rhetoric. But here’s the thing. I’m angry today. Very angry.

As you will know, I spend a fair bit of time on social media, and I’ve been extremely concerned with some of the posts I’ve been seeing in the past few days with respect to the COVID-19 outbreak among the Cowichan Tribes community.

OK … I’m beyond “extremely concerned.” I’m disappointed. And I’m pissed off.

Some of the posts I’ve seen are vile, filled with racism and an “us/them” mentality. They are fear-based, and they are inappropriate.

The posts are in response to the fact that the First Nations Health Authority on reserve has publicly admitted the outbreak, and has specified the number of cases among the Cowichan Tribes community. (As of yesterday, there were 45 active cases.)

In response to this, Tribes Chief and Council have imposed a “shelter in place” order for Tribes members.

But this whole thing has prompted some very inappropriate responses from the broader community, including demands that off-reserve employers fire any First Nations workers who may come into contact with the broader community purely on the basis of their membership in Cowichan Tribes.

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

Because here’s the thing. Tribes is being completely transparent about their numbers — far more so than Island Health.

The FNHA has the authority to be this specific and transparent on cases, locations, etc., while the rest of us (including non-First Nations elected officials) don’t even know specifically where cases are unless we hear from specific institutions like Superstore or Chemainus High School.

So Tribes is being as transparent as possible on this.

And how is that transparency being rewarded? With racist rhetoric that has even included the notion that “those Indians” should just go back to hunting and fishing and be kept segregated from our community. (Anyone remember the notion of “apartheid”? The word literally meant “separateness.”)

But here’s the thing. 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.

This virus is no respecter of persons or of “race.” It does not discriminate. And neither should we.

Please, if you see this kind of chatter on social media — or if you hear it in person — please call it out for what it is.

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

Rant over.

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