The chief of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation says that the territory's vulnerable people have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus and he is optimistic the rest of the community will receive the vaccine as soon as possible.
Chief Ted Williams said the First Nation has worked closely with the local health unit to prioritize the vaccine rollout. “Our long-term-care staff and residents … have been inoculated already because they are highly vulnerable. We are waiting patiently for our director of health and social services, who sits with the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit, as plans are made to receive the vaccine here. But that’s going to be some time off,” he said. The chief said that vulnerable residents received their first of two shots last week. He added that he has not heard a lot of frustration or impatience expressed by other community members, as they wait for the vaccine to be made available across the territory. “There is a pecking order as they have indicated. We are patient with that. We know that (health officials) are out there, doing the very best that they can,” Williams said. “Our health director is working very closely with them. We have input and we have instant information.” Rama First Nation has had five COVID cases in total since the pandemic began, none in more than two months, the chief said. He added that all five residents have since recovered. So far, the new provincial restrictions are not causing any new undue stress or hardship on his members, Williams said. “When they talk about the hours of business, we have had that in place for several months. In that regard we are ahead of them. We communicate frequently with our own community. There are provincial guidelines that we follow but there are also guidelines imposed by the leadership here and everyone in our community is co-operating very well,” the chief said. “I’m very thankful that members of our community are adhering to the call to say safe, wear your mask, keep social distancing and stay away from anyone who is not a part of your household.” Williams said that he also hasn’t heard a lot of talk about some Indigenous people being reluctant to get the vaccine, at least in part, because of the troubling history of their treatment by the health care system. “We understand the big picture. Of course there is a time and a place in which we have discussion and dialogue to assist each other in overcoming the challenges that are placed on Indigenous communities. The way you get around that is to have good dialogue with your neighbours and your (health care) partners,” the chief said. “We are all in this together. My focus right now has to be on COVID and working hard with my colleagues on council, with my staff and with my community. I can’t be worried about anything other than that.” Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said he understands the mistrust some First Nations people have toward the health-care system, adding no one will be forced to take the vaccine. “I sympathize with their concerns and I acknowledge the history,” Gardner said. “I think it is really important that we work with leadership in the Indigenous community about what we wish to do and why. They can be communicators on this. Others in the community, including elders, can be leaders on this. But in the end, it is a personal decision.”
John McFadden, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance