Chief calls for more local experts on national vaccination committee

·3 min read

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc. Grand Chief Garrison Settee wants to see more First Nations health experts on the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).

On Wednesday, Settee wrote a letter to Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, to request Dr. Barry Lavallee, CEO of Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin Inc. (KIM), be invited to take part in the NACI.

He explained during a press conference that a First Nation representative from Northern Manitoba would provide great value to the important work of NACI to strengthen fairness and substantive equity in setting guidelines.

“I always felt decisions being made on behalf of First Nations are always done by people that don’t know the geographical locations of these First Nations, they don’t know the demographic, their situations and they make these decisions,” said Settee on Thursday.

“It is better to have First Nations people on the committee so then these decisions would be done in a way that is supportive of First Nation’s culture and community values as well as to make sure it is done in a way that is satisfactory to the people.”

In the letter, Settee wrote having a First Nations representative on the committee will also help to advance the federal government’s reconciliation strategies, address the gaps in developing Indigenous health legislation, and work towards addressing anti-Indigenous racism in health care.

Settee concluded the letter saying that he wanted to partner with Tam to ensure Manitoba First Nations people are prioritized and protected during the pandemic.

“Throughout our history with government entities, many if not all decisions were made with the exclusion of Indigenous expertise in that conversation. At times, those decisions have been detrimental,” he said.

“I think we have reached a point in time where we have enough expertise in our Indigenous communities that can offer guidance and advice that could allow First Nations to have access to the proper medical care.”

The Grand Chief has written a letter to Manitoba’s Premier as well to express the need for collaboration on strategies with the MKO to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Strategies to address the COVID-19 outbreaks in Northern Manitoba could include plans for vaccine distribution, including improved communication to First Nations about when they can expect to receive their vaccines.

“While our provincial partners have made assurances to be transparent to First Nations, offering better communication of current and anticipated vaccine supplies for both First Nations and Manitoba, MKO will continue to work closely with the provincial government and hold them accountable regarding the vaccine rollout,” said Settee.

Recently, public health officials have announced that appointments can now be made to schedule COVID-19 vaccinations for First Nation people aged 75 years or older.

Planning is underway for the second phase of the expanding First Nation vaccine rollout, with First Nations being engaged to review options for surge capacity.

“Access to the COVID-19 vaccines remains top of mind as we near the one-year anniversary of living with the COVID-19 virus,” said Dr. Michael Routledge, medical advisor to MKO and KIM.

“We encourage everyone to become informed about the vaccine and to strongly consider accepting your vaccine once you become eligible. Although there is evidence that case numbers in Northern Manitoba are starting to improve, it is important for everyone to follow public health recommendations to prevent new outbreaks.”

— Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun