Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, updated Canadians on the situation regarding Covid-19 and vaccination in indigenous communities on February 4. At that time in First Nations communities on reserve, as well as northern and Inuit regions, there were 1885 active cases of Covid-19. The numbers are stabilising, as in other areas of the country. There have been stronger public health restrictions, and this has led to reduced community transmission rates. The rate of reported cases of Covid-19 in First Nations communities living on reserve is 40 percent higher than the rate in the general Canadian population. Marc Miller stressed that this is science, not opinion.
So far, 320 Indigenous communities have begun vaccine roll out. So far 64,300 doses have been administered. There are at least 75 more vaccine clinics to come. This has taken remarkable effort, and some ingenuity, Marc Miller noted, given the remote access of some of the communities. Indigenous leadership has definitely contributed to vaccine efforts, and the participation and support of Indigenous leaders and chiefs is essential to the success of the vaccination programs, and to help avoid vaccine hesitancy. The Ornge Team, under Operation Remote Immunity, with the cooperation of the Canadian Armed Forces, has undertaken to reach 31 of the most remote fly-in communities.
There are twelve principles adopted by Ornge and Nishnawbe Aski Nation that will inform Operation Remote Immunity. Cultural sensitivity training is the first. Others include ensuring that there are adequate locations secured for administering vaccinations to alleviate stress on the existing health care services and nursing stations, making sure that all those doing the vaccinations have received both doses of their own vaccinations, and working closely with a designated community leader to ensure that all ground logistics are worked through.
Marc Miller addressed the lack of trust between Indigenous populations, and Canadian health care systems, noting that this lack of trust is justified given the legacy of colonialism and history of uninformed, non-consensual experimentation inflicted on Indigenous populations. Indigenous leaders and elders in First Nations have been involved in the efforts to address vaccine hesitancy. Indigenous leaders, for example, have posted on social media that they have been vaccinated. The vaccination program is on track to have vaccinated 75 percent of adults with their first dose in regions with high-risk populations by the end of March. Marc said that the Indigenous health care system currently needs all provinces to participate in the vaccination of vulnerable first nations people off reserve, such as in urban areas.
Alongside the mistrust that many Indigenous communities have towards health and social systems, Marc noted that there is pushback from some groups who don’t understand the need to vaccinate Indigenous people who are off reserve. Anti-indigenous racism makes indigenous people wary of the health care system already, but this is compounded when they are faced with judgement from non-indigenous populations. Marc stresses that it must remain a priority to vaccinate the off-reserve populations, regardless of pushback.
Indigenous people off reserve are much more susceptible to the Covid-19 virus.
Joyce Echaquan died on September 28 at a hospital in Joliette, Quebec. She was a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman and mother of seven. She live-streamed seven minutes of abuse she endured at the hands of hospital staff prior to her death. Her death and treatment were shocking.
Joyce’s Principle, a document created by the Council of the Atikamedw Nation and the Atikamekw Council of Manawan, and delivered to the federal and provincial governments on November 16, 2020, seeks to guarantee that Indigenous people have access to health care and social services without discrimination and racism. Joyce’s Principle has faced opposition in Quebec from the Quebec government, including Francois Legault and members of his cabinet, who will not acknowledge that systematic racism exists in the province. It is hoped that Joyce’s Principle will provide an impetus to governments to implement mandatory training in anti-indigenous racism and diversity within the health care field, the integration of Indigenous practices into educational programs, and programs to help Indigenous students enter and remain in the health care field and social services.
Marc Miller says that all levels of government and Indigenous leaders and chiefs are coming together to help implement Joyce’s Principle into the Indigenous health system, trying to address the anti-indigenous racism within the system. The Federal government has committed two million dollars to help implement Joyce’s Principle, and the fall economic statement dedicated 15.6 million dollars over two fiscal years to improving Indigenous health care systems.