Dancers make their way through a human tunnel during the Koksilah Music Festival near Duncan, B.C.
Dancers make their way through a human tunnel during the Koksilah Music Festival near Duncan, B.C. Jacqueline Ronson/The Discourse

How will Cowichan Valley candidates address anti-Indigenous racism?

We sent MLA candidates your election questions. Here's what we heard.
October 17, 2020

“How will you ensure that anti-Indigenous systemic racism is addressed?” That’s a question The Discourse heard from a resident of the Cowichan Valley riding after we launched a poll asking what you think should top the B.C. election agenda. 

Leading up to the election, we’re publishing candidates’ answers to questions from community members. You’ll find all our coverage in riding guides for Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo-North Cowichan, Nanaimo, Langford-Juan de Fuca and Esquimalt Metchosin

As of Oct. 17, The Discourse has not received a response from BC Liberal Party candidate Tanya Kaul. We’ll update the story if we get one. Here are the responses from the other candidates.

Rob Douglas, BC NDP

When I heard about the most recent allegations of racism in B.C.’s health care system, I thought of the Elders I know who told me stories of the horrific experiences they and their family members have had when trying to access health care or other services here in the Cowichan Valley. As we work to advance real, meaningful reconciliation, we need to recognize that colonialism still echoes in our systems and institutions today. 

I am proud that John Horgan and the BC NDP government immediately moved on an independent investigation of these allegations, which is ongoing. We are also reaching out to health employers and unions to prioritize the hiring of a health care workforce that better represents the communities it serves. There is much more work to do. 

Another way we can address systemic racism is through our laws. One of the proudest moments for me watching the progress of the John Horgan government was when B.C. became the first province to enshrine the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in law. This means that now we have the law behind us as we move forward with Indigenous peoples to further self-determination. 

Our path forward will include us moving away from short-term transactional arrangements with First Nations to long-term agreements that recognize and support reconciliation, self-determination, and economic independence. It will mean working together on key decisions about regional land and resource use. And it means funding key projects designed to preserve and respect Indigenous cultures and languages. There is so much work to do and I look forward to being a part of it. 

We will also work with B.C.’s new Human Rights Commissioner and other stakeholders to introduce legislation that paves the way for race-based data collection, so we can make better and more informed decisions in sectors like policing, health care and education.

And we’re tackling old laws that need to be modernized, like the Police Act and the Multiculturalism Act. We will prioritize tackling systemic racism, creating a dedicated hate crime unit within local police forces, and reviewing training and procedures related to ‘wellness checks’. We will conduct a full review of anti-racism laws in other jurisdictions and launch a full stakeholder consultation leading to a new Anti-Racism Act that better serves everyone in B.C.

Sonia Furstenau, BC Green Party

I am saddened that racism is still ongoing in our community. In the constituency office, we saw evidence of individual acts of racism against Indigenous peoples, Black people, and people of colour who live in Cowichan. In response to this, the Cowichan Leadership Group has been vocal on more than occasion to call out acts of racism and implore the community to not stand by and accept these acts. We invited Lynn Weaver, Executive Director of the Cowichan Intercultural Society, to our meeting in July to talk about ways in which the Cowichan Leadership Group could take action on racism in our community. I hope this work will continue after the election. 

We have seen evidence of systemic racism in the child welfare system, education, health care, protective services, among others. For example, my constituency staff and I recognized early on in my term just how biased the child welfare system is towards Indigenous families. To respond to this, we called together a group of local people who had interest in the area of child welfare. About 30 people were in the group, which was eventually called Cowichan Community of Caring. We would meeting regularly to discuss how the system was impacting Indigenous families, and ways in which it should change to eliminate racism. Our work was featured in the media more than once, and as a result, an anonymous donor offered to fund a report that would provide evidence to decision makers of the experiences of Indigenous peoples in the child welfare system. Two Cowichan Tribes women spearheaded the report, entitled Q’shin’tul. They presented the report to Cowichan Tribes council and the Ministry of Children and Family Development. 

The report and the work of the Cowichan Community of Caring shone a spotlight on the issues in Cowichan and across the province. This is just one example of how systemic racism can be addressed in our community. There is still much work to be done in this area and others. We must continue to check our systems for racism at every turn.  

Further reading: 

  • At the leaders’ debate on Oct. 13, answers to a question about confronting white privilege sparked conversation. Here’s CBC Newscoverage of that story
  • Go straight to the source — here are links to the party platforms for the BC Liberal Party, the BC NDP and the BC Green Party.

Visit the candidates’ websites: 

How do I vote?

  • Voting day is Saturday, Oct. 24, with advance polls Oct. 15 through Oct. 21. Visit Elections BC for information on where to go and what to bring.