The following open letter, dated April 10, was sent to Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, and Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller:
It was with deep disappointment and, frankly, shock, that I read Mr. Zimmer’s April 9 letter to Minister Bennett. At a time when our community is responding to the unprecedented threat of COVID-19, our local MP, Mr. Zimmer, has not contacted myself as Chief, any of Blueberry’s elected family Councillors, or anyone within our administration. Despite failing to talk to us, Mr. Zimmer has chosen to perpetuate falsehoods and inaccuracies about our ongoing efforts to protect our community. Mr. Zimmer’s letter appears to have no constructive purpose other than to discredit the tireless and heroic work done by our emergency team at Blueberry, in conjunction with provincial health officials, federal agencies and first responders. At a time of crisis when we are working closely with federal, provincial and local partners, Mr. Zimmer has chosen to shamefully and dishonourably, criticize the efforts of our team. The fact that Mr. Zimmer chose to have his letter published in the media discloses its true purpose – to foment division within our community. Without any kind of verification effort with us, he has espoused the false grievances of a small group of Blueberry members. Instead of reaching out to ask what he can do to help us, he has chosen to use the COVID-19 crisis to pursue a personal agenda. This falls far short of any known standards of leadership and decency.
Our team, including our leadership group and our incredibly brave health and administrative staff, have been focusing almost exclusively on COVID-19 emergency preparedness for a number of weeks. In fact our efforts have been used by federal officials as a model for other First Nation communities.
Recognizing how vulnerable our community is, and how limited our resources are, Blueberry was one of the first communities in the region to put travel restrictions in place, including restricting access to our reserves, and restricting travel by our residents into Ft. St. John. Our deep concern about COVID-19 was demonstrated in our March correspondence with the Premier regarding the Site C camp workforce. Several weeks ago when we put travel restrictions in place for our reserves and pulled our monitors out of the Site C camp, BC Hydro continued to fly in hundreds of Site C workers. We have now enacted the highest level of access and travel restrictions for our community.
On March 23 the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) passed a motion declaring a state of emergency respecting First Nations and the COVID Pandemic. On March 26, the Province, through Ministerial Order 84, rescinded all declarations of states of local emergency and required local authorities to implement their emergency management plans. While emergency planning on reserve is technically a federal responsibility, we recognize that Canada has entered into an MOU with BC whereby emergency planning is delivered through the provincial regime. Blueberry recognized the need to stay in lockstep with provincial emergency planning and even before MO-84 was issued we were deploying our emergency plan. We worked with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) emergency planning template to build a robust plan that follows the best available medical guidance.
I am proud to say that my Council, including each of our family Council representatives, has taken a unified approach to this crisis. Blueberry leadership has taken a number of measures in response to the COVID-19 crisis including:
• Ongoing collaboration with relevant authorities including the RCMP, FNHA, Emergency Planning of BC, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) and the Northern Health Authority (NHA);
• Issuing a Directive, pursuant to our Pandemic Emergency Plan, setting out self-isolation requirements, travel restrictions, and physical distancing requirements, among other measures;
• Preparing and implementing the Pandemic Emergency Plan and marshaling community health resources;
• We issued broad communication emphasizing the public health directives regarding physical distancing and hand washing and ensuring our members have all necessary emergency numbers on hand;
• We recommended members practice self-isolation as much as possible as a precautionary approach;
• Early and daily contact from our health staff with Elders and members, providing information and checking on well-being, including door to door contact;
• Establishing a food-aid program on an early basis to help members because of the economic impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic;
• Ongoing monitoring of food and water supplies so that essential services can be maintained;
• Advocating for the delivery of emergency resources such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and accessible COVID-19 testing;
• Coordinating community food drives to facilitate community members staying at home
In conclusion, we welcome, and need, constructive assistance from all of our health and governmental partners as we collectively respond to COVID-19. Mr. Zimmer appears to not understand that the federal ministry that we have been working with on our COVID-19 response is, in fact, the Ministry of Indigenous Services (ISC), overseen by The Hon. Marc Miller who I have listed as a co-addressee on this letter. We will continue to work collaboratively with federal, provincial, regional and local partners in a concerted manner for the benefit of our community and for the benefit of all local residents. At Blueberry, we recognize that we are in this fight together. We call upon Mr. Zimmer to come to that same recognition.
Approved by Chief Marvin Yahey
Read MP Zimmer's original letter: