BC Green Party Sonia Furstenau
(BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau/Twitter)

Political leaders in the Cowichan Valley have taken to social media to call out a spike in racist posts following outbreaks in local First Nation communities.

Over the weekend, Duncan mayor Michelle Staples, North Cowichan mayor Al Siebring, and Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau have all posted to Facebook expressing concern with a rise in hateful messages towards indigenous people online.

The leaders say that they have all witnessed an increase in racist posts since Cowichan Tribes and other Island First Nations announced COVID-19 outbreaks.

“I’ve been extremely concerned with some of the posts I’ve been seeing in the past few days with respect to the COVID outbreak among the Cowichan Tribes community,” Siebring stated on Sunday.

“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 North Cowichan mayor added that the posts left him feeling angry and disappointed.

Staples, his counterpart in Duncan, called on locals to speak up when they see racist or discriminatory comments and to “choose kindness” in confronting the pandemic.

“This is the time for each of us to remember that this virus does not care who we are or where we are from, it does not discriminate, only we can do that,” the Duncan mayor stated on Saturday.

She added that First Nations fall under their own health jurisdiction, which is why details on the outbreaks have differed from those provided by Island Health and authorities elsewhere.

Staples also linked to Cowichan Tribes’ January 8th update from Chief William Seymour and Acting General Manager Derek Thompson in her post.

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said Thompson had personally reached out to her about the racism members of Cowichan Tribes and other First Nations have been experiencing.

“When I read his note I felt sadness and shame, but I was not surprised,” the MLA for Cowichan Valley stated on Sunday.

“When the news broke that cases were on the reserve, and the shelter-in-place order was issued, my first thought was to the health of the elders, and my second thought was to the reaction of those who still choose to discriminate based on race.”

She also echoed Staples’ comments that Cowichan Tribes provides their COVID-19 statistics separately from Island Health, and pointed out that the community has taken strict measures to control the spread of the virus, including a shelter-in-place order.

Furstenau went on to say that there is no room for racism in the fight against COVID-19.

“We have two choices as a community right now: to unite in our effort to protect our most vulnerable from this devastating virus, or to turn on our neighbours at the moment they need us most,” she stated.

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