At least four cases of COVID-19 have been identified between the central coast communities of Bella Bella and Bella Coola and this is prompting local First Nations to call on the government to be more forthcoming with information related to the virus.
An application to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner was submitted Monday, Sept. 14 by the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, Tsilhqot’in National Government and the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. The nations, representing communities located on the Central Coast, Chilcotin and Vancouver Island regions, are asking the Ministry of Health to share the location of presumptive and confirmed COVID-19 cases, whether the case involves a person that has travelled to one of the Nations and the name of a person infected who is a member of one of the Nations to be used for the purpose of culturally-safe contact tracing.
On Wednesday, Sept. 9 the Heiltsuk Nation of Bella Bella posted that it had received confirmation of its first positive test result, which resulted in a full lockdown of that community. This was followed not even a week later on Saturday, Sept. 12 with a confirmation of COVID-19 in Bella Coola, which was self-reported by the individual(s). The information was released by the Nuxalk Nation’s Emergency Operations Centre and was followed by a full lockdown of the community.
At present contact tracing is conducted through a public health nurse, but the Heiltsuk Nation has repeatedly said that’s not good enough and could potentially put more lives at risk in smaller, remote communities.
“Our people have worked so hard to prevent COVID from entering our community, but it’s here now,” said Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation. “This is deeply upsetting and worrying, and our thoughts and prayers are with our members and their families. These positive cases show the risks of keeping Indigenous communities in the dark.”
When questioned about this in her daily briefing on September 14, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that they are working through the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) to notify communities of cases and exposures.
“We are working closely with the Coastal and Heiltsuk and all of our First Nations leader through FNHA. I compelled a data linkage for each case early on so we could identify people as Indigenous, and we notify the FNHA and leadership in an affected community — they are notified when the tests come back positive,” said Henry. “We have been working on this, and I have responsibility for the protection of health information.”
Henry also said coronavirus exposures that have led to cases in a number of smaller or more remote communities have not been related to a neighbouring community, but it was not clear if she was referencing the central coast in that statement.
“The idea that we need to have an outbreak — as we have just had in our community — before B.C. will share information, is reckless and colonial, and it goes against B.C.’s own laws and promises of reconciliation,” said Slett in a news release Tuesday, Sept. 15.