An alley in downtown Duncan.
An alley in Downtown Duncan Photo by Jenny Holden
Cowichan Valley

How business groups are responding to anti-Indigenous discrimination

We asked Cowichan region groups what they’ve done in response to calls from local leadership.
Jacqueline Ronson January 28, 2021

In recent weeks, members of the Cowichan Tribes community have reported an increase in anti-Indigenous racism and discrimination. The rise followed the First Nation’s announcement of COVID-19 cases within its membership and a shelter-in-place order to protect residents on reserves. 

The reports have brought forward a strong response from local, regional and even national leadership. Late last week the chief of Cowichan Tribes and mayors of Duncan and North Cowichan wrote a letter to local businesses calling for an end to discrimination based on race or place of residence and clarifying that business access to reserves for deliveries and services are permitted. 

This week, The Discourse reached out to business groups in the Cowichan region to ask how they have responded to these events. Here are the responses received so far, in the order they were received. 

Downtown Duncan Business Improvement Area

The DDBIA is saddened to hear of anti-Indigenous discrimination in the Cowichan Valley and we have actively taken steps to counter the issue by sharing statements by Chief Seymour, Mayor Staples, and Mayor Siebring on our social media pages. We also printed, laminated, and distributed a sign to participating members as well as the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce welcoming Cowichan Tribes members in Hul’q’umi’num. The sign reads “please come in, thank you” and was translated by Merle Seymour and Philomena Williams, two Cowichan Tribes Elders. Lorraine Charlie also played a role in translating the welcome sign.

The Downtown Duncan BIA distributed welcome signs in Hul'q'umi'num to Duncan businesses.
The Downtown Duncan BIA distributed welcome signs in Hul’q’umi’num to Duncan businesses. Image submitted by the Downtown Duncan BIA

We also distributed a fact sheet to our members from Cowichan Tribes, explaining the Shelter in Place order and indicating “Under the B.C. Human Rights Code it is illegal to discriminate based on race, colour, ancestry, or place of origin. Refusing services based on these factors may subject your business to litigation. Under the Shelter in Place Order, Cowichan Tribes members may leave their homes for essential reasons including work, school, medical appointments, shopping, caring for loved ones, to get fresh air, or for other essential reasons”

The DDBIA has made statements to media outlets such as CTV which The Discourse could also publish, indicating:  

“Cowichan Tribes members have recently experienced racism from some members of the community, but member businesses in the downtown Duncan BIA want Cowichan Tribes members to feel welcome in our shops.”

We are working with partners in the business community to determine further steps to address the problem. 

As an organization the DDBIA is speaking out against racism in the ways I detailed because we value inclusivity. We are thankful that, to date, no one has reported to this organization an instance of one of our member businesses refusing service to someone due to race in downtown Duncan during the COVID-19 crisis. If someone does have a specific issue with one of our businesses, we want to know and address it carefully because we want people to feel safe here. In that spirit, hearing what we have lately about this issue in the Cowichan Valley, our downtown business community has rallied to speak out against racism in solidarity with our partners at Cowichan Tribes and the City of Duncan. We want to communicate through our Hul’q’umi’num signage initiatives, emails to members, and sharing of Cowichan Leadership statements on social media that racism is not welcome here. 

-Amanda Vance, executive director

Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce

The Ladysmith Chamber forwarded the letter prepared by the mayors of Duncan and North Cowichan and the chief of Cowichan Tribes together with a brief comment from the Executive Director as follows:

“Fear is more contagious than COVID. It can bring out the worst in us. If ever there was a time to look deep in our hearts for kindness and respect (and to root out the darkness of discrimination) it is now. Please, please folks, on behalf of our children, let’s take care of one another and rid racism from our communities for good.”

It is also anticipated that there will be a very local, Ladysmith-specific response to this issue in the near future and the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce will cooperate and coordinate with this initiative as it plays out to the fullest extent possible.

-Mark Drysdale, executive director

Chemainus Business Improvement Association

As a board comprised of many local businesses, we do not condone or support any form of prejudice in any way shape or form through the town. In a time such as this, it is important that we as a community stand together; business owner beside community members regardless of race, religion, or culture. We implore our community to do the same, touting the theme of unity and support for businesses, friends and neighbours.

-Krystal Adams, executive director

The Discourse attempted to reach the following business groups but did not receive a response by the deadline:

  • Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce
  • Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce
  • Chemainus Chamber of Commerce
  • Cowichan Bay Improvement Association
  • Tourism Cowichan
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