VICTORIA -- Indigenous British Columbians have seen relative success in protecting against COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, according to provincial and First Nations health authorities.

Chief medical officer for the First Nations Health Authority Dr. Shannon McDonald and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Friday that just 87 Indigenous people contracted the novel coronavirus in B.C. between Jan. 1 and June 14.

Of those cases, four people died of the virus.

Since the pandemic began, roughly 5,500 COVID-19 tests were undertaken in First Nations communities. As of June 26, just 3 active cases remain among Indigenous people.

“The people that the FNHA (First Nations Health Authority) serve have fared even better than other populations in the face of this unprecedented challenge,” said McDonald.

McDonald adds that COVID-19 testing is now available to all Indigenous people in the province, “even in the most remote communities.”

As of June 25, B.C. has seen a total of 2,869 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 173 deaths related to the virus.

McDonald credits the low transmission rate within B.C. First Nations to quick and sweeping decisions that were made during the pandemic.

First Nations health measures included limiting travel in and out of First Nations land, increasing food security and self-sufficiency and cancelling large gatherings.

McDonald said that the decisions to cancel some large events was “painful,” as ceremonies and gatherings can play a key role in First Nations culture. However, she says that the decision to avoid large gatherings has “paid off.”

“The worst, that many anticipated and feared, did not happen,” she said.

“(COVID-19 transmission) within and between our communities was kept to a very small number,” said McDonald.

As B.C. enters Phase 3 of its restart plan, which endorses travel within the province, McDonald cautions that many First Nations are still wary of the potential spread of COVID-19.

Some communities may keep their borders closed to visitors amid the pandemic, depending on where they are located.

“Some communities may choose not to invite guests,” she said. “They are self-determining nations and I will not disagree with them.”

McDonald adds that all Indigenous people must continue to follow fundamental health measures, like regular hand washing, physical distancing and avoiding large gatherings to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

“We must continue to do this for a while longer for the sake of the most vulnerable around us, especially for our elders, our speakers, and our knowledge keepers,” she said.

Allegations of racism in the B.C. health-care system

With the B.C. government recently announcing an investigation into allegations of a racist “game” taking place in a hospital emergency room, McDonald says that the investigation is just “the tip of the iceberg.”

The FNHA chief medical officer says that health officials regularly receive reports of racism against Indigenous people, or hear reports of “less than adequate care.”

She says that the FNHA is working with the provincial government, universities and training programs to address systemic racism.

McDonald adds that she is grateful that the B.C. Ministry of Health quickly announced an investigation into the recent allegations.

She also thanked B.C.’s top doctor for her leadership and “commitment to protection for First Nations people and their communities” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.