Kitigan Zibi chief calls on Quebec to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations in First Nations

·3 min read

Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Chief Dylan Whiteduck is hoping to see more transparency from Quebec on its vaccination plan for First Nations, as the community is experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases.

"There is absolutely no mention of First Nations people, which is scary for myself as a leader of my community," said Whiteduck.

"I think other First Nations across Quebec should be worried about this as well."

Whiteduck issued an open letter to federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller as well as Quebec ministers for health and Indigenous affairs, seeking 4,000 vaccine doses as soon as possible for his community, which is located about 120 kilometres north of Ottawa.

Quebec's fourth priority group in its preliminary vaccination plan consists of isolated and remote communities. While that does include many Indigenous communities, Whiteduck said there's been no information as to where a community like Kitigan Zibi fits in.

"There's no transparency around this. Sadly, it's going to affect and it's going to probably kill some First Nations people. And that's what I don't want," he said.

"Maybe the feds need to take control of it and administer for First Nations here on out because Quebec is obviously not doing an adequate job in handling this."

Working in collaboration

Quebec's Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS) said it is working in collaboration with Indigenous partners and Indigenous Services Canada to plan a vaccination operation in the Indigenous communities.

"For the MSSS, it is important to ensure that the solutions that will be proposed meet the realities of these communities and that they have been approved by them as well as the subjects of the awareness campaign and the deployment itself of the vaccination operation," said a statement from the ministry.

"According to their recommendations, we will be able to work in complementarity with the resources in place to vaccinate the members of the First Nations and Inuit with the exception of pregnant or breastfeeding women, those under 16 and people with severe immunity disorders."

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) said it is closely monitoring the number of COVID-19 cases reported in First Nations communities across the province. As of Jan. 2, a total of 322 people living on-reserve in Quebec have contracted the virus since the pandemic started. Two people have died.

"ISC will continue to advocate for the prioritization of the COVID-19 vaccine for Indigenous populations and work with all partners, including provinces and territories, to ensure cultural safety and respect for First Nations, Inuit and Métis when planning for the vaccine, and addressing hesitancy around getting it," read a statement from the federal department.

So far, 1,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine have been received in Opitciwan and James Bay Cree territory respectively. Wemotaci will receive a shipment of 500 doses Wednesday.

In Kahnawake, residents at the Turtle Bay Elders Lodge and Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre are being vaccinated Wednesday as well.

Whiteduck said he has yet to hear from public health officials about when residents of Kitigan Zibi's retirement home or any health-care workers will have that opportunity.

There's currently nine active cases of COVID-19 in the community. The increase in cases has caused worry, anger, and fear, said Whiteduck.

"We have our frontline workers, and I applaud all of our nurses who are diligently working hard. But at the end of the day, you know, it's just a matter of time till [the pandemic] hits us even worse," said Whiteduck.