Multiple First Nations say more work needs to be done after signing COVID-19 sharing agreements with B.C.’s provincial health officer that provide more detailed information about case numbers in nearby communities.
Nearly two months after B.C.’s information and privacy commissioner ruled sufficient information was readily available, the Heiltsuk Nation, Tsilhqot’in National Government and Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council recently negotiated and signed information-sharing agreements with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Heiltsuk Nation chief councillor Marilyn Slett said although it does not entail everything the nations were looking for, it is a step in the right direction, noting past pandemics have been detrimental for First Nations.
“One of the things that one of our hereditary leaders said to us early on in the pandemic is what is different now is we should have this information at our fingertips,” she said.
“We didn’t have that, but that’s also what motivated us to keep going, and to make sure that we need to promote as this is something that will benefit our community, keep our community safe and ultimately save lives.”
Under the agreements, Henry will provide the nations with almost daily reports listing the number of COVID-19 cases in proximate communities such as Williams Lake, Port Hardy, Bella Coola and Prince Rupert.
Certain thresholds must be met before the nations can disclose the number of cases in their public risk statements. For proximate communities with a population of fewer than 20,000 residents, there have to be 10 or more cases and five or more cases in near communities with more than 20,000 residents.
“While we anticipate there may be an opportunity to expand these kinds of agreements in the future, at this point in time, we are beginning with these agreements and expect to learn about further opportunities and considerations with respect to this approach,” a Ministry of Health spokesperson said.
Although Slett said they can now offer improved risk assessments and guidance to their community members with more detailed and up-to-date information, the nations believe systemic change must still occur in B.C.’s healthcare system including establishing new structures and protocols that support sufficient and timely information sharing with Indigenous governments during emergencies.