(Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council/coastalfirstnations.ca)

A coalition of First Nations in B.C. is seeking an order that would force the Ministry of Health to report the locations of COVID-19 patients near their communities.

The group of over 20 nations have filed an application under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), stating that the government’s refusal to disclose locations is a violation of section 25 of the act, which states that  Minister must disclose information about a risk of significant harm to an affected group of people.

“If COVID-19 proximate case information does not represent information about a risk of significant harm to our communities, we don’t know what does,” said Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council.

“The idea that we need to have an outbreak — as we have just had in our community — before BC will share information, is reckless and colonial, and it goes against BC’s own laws and promises of reconciliation.”

Two positive cases of COVID-19 were reported in the Heiltsuk Nation on Monday.

Back in March, the First Nation issued a statement saying Bella Bella, a territory within the Heiltsuk Nation, is highly vulnerable to a COVID-19 outbreak.

“Our hospital has limited beds and limited resources which are difficult to replenish right now due to the current high demand at urban hospitals,” said Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor of Heiltsuk Nation.

“An outbreak of COVID-19 in Bella Bella would be dangerous and difficult to manage – and we would likely have to respond with the limited supply of oxygen, swabs, and other medical supplies currently at our fingertips.”

In a statement released September 15, the coalition of First Nations contends that the Ministry of Health has not explained why proximate COVID-19 cases do not present a risk of significant harm to the health or safety of First Nations communities, or how failure to disclose information is consistent with BC’s obligations under the province’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA).

The statement adds that in the past, pandemics including smallpox and the Spanish flu have been devastating to First Nations communities and their Elders.

The last time B.C. reported the number of COVID-19 cases among Indigenous people was in late June. Between January 1 and June 14, 87 Indigenous people contracted the virus, and four died as a result.

At the moment, the BCCDC or Ministry of Health does not provide regularly updated information on exact locations of COVID-19 cases in the province.

The most recent region-specific information is from July and can be found on the BCCDC website.