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A coalition of British Columbia First Nations and the provincial health officer have reached an information-sharing agreement over COVID-19 infections, but the nations say the deal still needs work.

A statement from the Heiltsuk First Nation says the agreement will provide more detailed information about COVID-19 case numbers in nearby communities.

The First Nation says that will help Indigenous leaders make more informed decisions about safety measures and offer better guidance to its members.

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But the statement says the agreement does not provide “completely satisfactory” disclosure and they want B.C.’s health officials to find new ways to ensure sufficient and timely information is shared with First Nations during emergencies.

The statement says the agreement with the provincial health officer will provide the Heiltsuk Nation, the Tsilhqot’in National Government and member nations of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council with frequent reports about case counts in nearby communities and a threshold when those numbers can be made public.

B.C.’s information and privacy commissioner ruled in December that the Health Ministry did not have to disclose specific COVID-19 case numbers due to concerns the details could compromise patient confidentiality, especially in small communities.

Indigenous leaders argued unsuccessfully that they could not govern effectively or make decisions about curfews and stay-at-home orders without knowing COVID-19 infection rates.

Marilyn Slett, chief councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation, says the agreement was “hard fought” and means community members can rely on improved risk assessments.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says she understands B.C.’s Indigenous populations have been “seriously and negatively impacted by historical pandemics.”

“My office is sharing information in the spirit of reconciliation, to realize self-governance and self-determination, and to ensure an effective public health response to COVID-19,” Henry says in the statement.

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