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Sense of hope for First Nations in northern Manitoba as vaccine shots begin

A virtual news conference was hosted on Tuesday by the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), which represents 26 First Nations in the province, to provide updates on the vaccine doses that had arrived in some remote communities.

“This is a turning point,” MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said. “It brings a sense of hope, a sense of optimism to our First Nations. This is what we advocated for that our people would be considered when the vaccines were being distributed nationwide. Our chiefs advocated to make sure that our people were considered and were not marginalized and now this is happening.”

Canada has approved both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for use across the country. Both federal and provincial governments identified First Nations people as being in a priority group to be among the first to receive the vaccines.

As of yesterday, seven First Nations in northern Manitoba had received some Moderna doses to distribute in their communities.

“It is a complex process, nevertheless we must continue to work so that people can have access to the vaccine that will ultimately save lives and bring change in the status quo,” Settee said.

“Since the pandemic began, we always knew that we were the most vulnerable,” he said. “Our First Nations were most at risks. As we move forward we want to see our people being well, being healthy and this is a part of that process.”

Norway House Cree Nation Chief Larson Anderson said 90 Elders in his community have been vaccinated so far.

“We were quite fortunate that the federal government earmarked some of those vaccines directly to the First Nations,” he said. “Thank you to the federal government for that.”

Anderson said community officials are doing their best to promote the benefits of vaccination to members in their First Nation.

“We’re trying to assure them the vaccine is quite safe and that it’s going to help,” Anderson said. “We’re promoting the vaccine as best as we could so people can feel safe that if they take it. It’s going to help them.”

York Factory First Nation Chief Leroy Constant said his community has received 20 vaccine doses so far.

“We’re finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel here where the vaccination rollouts are occurring,” he said.

Constant added an educational process on the vaccines is also continuing in his community.

“The challenge for not only us as a people but, I guess, with society in general is that there is a lot of fear behind it,” he said.

Constant said many Indigenous people are questioning why they are among the first to receive doses.

“The fear is why are they giving it to First Nations people first,” he said. “Why do we have to be the first ones to try it? Well, because simply we are the most at risk.”

Constant said his First Nation had seven of its members test positive for the COVID-19 virus last September.

Contract tracing then found those seven individuals had been in contact with a total of 96 people in the First Nation, which has 470 members.
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