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Community works through COVID-19 lockdown

Tla’amin Nation members making tireless efforts, says hegus
ENTRY POINTS: Most roads leading into T’ishosum have been blocked since Tla’amin Nation went into a lockdown mode due to COVID-19 cases in the community. The only entry is through Sliammon Road, which has a 24-hour checkpoint. Powell River Peak photo

Tla’amin Nation is working to make the best of a difficult situation with the COVID-19 outbreak in the community.

Tla’amin hegus Clint Williams said in a bad situation like this, it’s good to see people come together and work together to try to make everyone as comfortable as they can be during this lockdown. 

“This is not an easy process to do,” said Williams. “There’s a lot of people who are not happy with it but I believe they understand why we need to do this. It’s been great watching the work around the community. We have some wonderful staff doing some great things.

“There’s way too many people to list but I want them acknowledged for their tireless efforts. We have some wonderful people working for us in the community.”

In terms of the recovery of Tla’amin Nation’s residents who are afflicted with COVID-19, most are recovering at home. Williams said early in the planning process, even before any cases arrived in the nation, planning was in place to send people to Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver if they required extensive medical treatment.

“That was the plan if COVID-19 came to the Powell River community, anybody who needed additional care would be sent to that hospital,” said Williams. He said he believes there are two people who have been sent out of town to receive additional care.

Williams said Tla’amin Nation had 50 or 60 more COVID-19 tests that happened in a drive-through testing station at Tla’amin Health on September 15 and he was awaiting results.

In terms of determining the bigger picture, Williams said it would be helpful for the nation to know how widespread the COVID-19 virus is in the Powell River region outside of Tla’amin.

“Right now, with our transparency and putting ourselves out there, the spotlight is being shone on our community,” said Williams. “We know there are other results out there. It makes it difficult to try to plan because the City of Powell River is our supplier. We need to know if that is potentially in jeopardy or not.

“Nobody wants this type of attention. We have just taken these measures to try to protect our people and our neighbours.”

Williams said the Tla’amin community is hoping it will get the same treatment from the outside community in terms of information – people being open, up-front and honest about anything that is happening around the region.

“This is kind of the value of having the relationship with the qathet Regional District and the City of Powell River to have these doors opened,” said Williams. “We’ve been having conversations as the three communities, potentially seeing if we can resolve some of these limitations that seem to be in place with reporting the data.”

Williams said the Tla’amin legislature met to determine whether elections slated for September 19 would go ahead. The Tla’amin elections have been postponed until October 17 to ensure all Tla’amin members have a fair and equal say in who forms the next government.

“The election will be postponed until Tla’amin members are well enough to fully participate,” said Williams. “We realize this is yet another change in an already difficult time.”

The current government will continue its leadership role until the new government is formed in late October.

Tla’amin has been involved with an effort by a group of first nations trying to receive more information from the government on COVID-19 cases in the province. A coalition of first nations has applied to the information and privacy commissioner for an order to disclose proximate case information about the location of confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases near their communities.

Williams said he was approached earlier this week to have a conversation with representatives of the Heiltsuk Nation, which is one of the organizers of the initiative to seek more information from the provincial ministry of health.

“I totally understand where they are coming from,” said Williams. “The turnaround time on information is a little bit slow and the province seems to be holding their cards close to their chest in providing updates.

“Nobody wants to see anyone’s name. Everyone wants to know the cases around us and that’s the dilemma.”

Williams said the first nations are looking at taking potential legal action.

The application, filed by the Heiltsuk Nation, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and Tsilhqot’in National Government is supported by other first nations, civil society groups and doctors. The nations filed their application on the basis that the BC government’s refusal to share information violates section 25 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which states that a 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,” stated chief councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation in a media release. “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.”