MPP wanted to encourage Indigenous people to get vaccinated, Ford accused him of line-jumping

·4 min read

There are two things to know about the last few weeks in the life of Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa.

One, on March 1, he was invited to “lead by example” by travelling to Sandy Lake First Nation to receive his second vaccination publicly. (He got his first for the same reason in Muskrat Dam First Nation.) Many Indigenous people are hesitant to get a vaccine from a government that has treated them so poorly and some communities only had 10- to 20-per cent turnout.

After his demonstration, Sandy Lake had an increase to 99-per-cent turnout for the second dose that same week.

Two, Premier Doug Ford addressed Mamakwa in the legislature soon after and accused him of “jumping the line.”

Though Mamakwa, who speaks Oji-Cree as a first language and hails from Kingfisher Lake First Nation, said he isn’t surprised by the comment and simply “shook his head” when he heard it, the time that has passed since the March 11 remark has changed his mind.

“The way Ford treated me, I was floored by it,” said Mamakwa. “I thought, maybe he just doesn’t know what I was asking? Then, I started thinking about the disrespect that he has shown to Indigenous people, not just me, but also the lack of compassion and the indifference that exists there.”

During Question Period at Queen’s Park on March 11, Mamakwa spoke of the need for support for urban Indigenous vaccination clinics.

“I wanted to ensure that hospitals or health units were actually working side by side with Indigenous health leaders,” said Mamakwa.

Premier Ford responded with an accusation.

“The member flew in [to] get his vaccine, so thank you for doing that and kind of jumping the line,” Ford said. “I talked to a few chiefs that were pretty upset about that for flying into the community that he doesn't belong to, but that's not here nor there.”

At the time, Mamakwa wasn’t sure what to say. He told Sudbury.com that if the remark was made to him outside the legislature — without the province watching — he may not have ever thought about it again, but there was something about this remark that stuck with him.

“My feelings, when I try and articulate them, is that as a First Nations person, does that mean I'm cheating the system? That ‘Indigenous people are trying to cheat us’,” said Mamakwa.

“Or is he trying to place me in a system where I'm an MPP, not an Indigenous person? He’s trying to separate that. I'm not going to let Doug Ford or Health Minister (Christine) Elliot try to separate me from my community, because I am first and foremost, a First Nations person.”

Mamakwa said it is the moment that confirmed his view of the premier.

“What he said, it showed me the real Doug Ford,” said Mamakwa. “It’s not just an attack on me, but it’s an attack on Indigenous people.”

And it is one he has unfortunately heard before.

“The holding of racist stereotypes that we saw at Question Period, if you hold those ideas about us as First Nations people, it makes sense that our people will continue not to trust the government. To see this exhibited at the highest political level in Ontario is not acceptable.”

He said it even lessens the hope that many have that there will be a solution to the deep-seated issues within First Nation communities.

“If a First Nation community that has been on boil water advisory for 20 years, if they want to fight, pressure the government whether at the ministerial level or at the bureaucratic level, that is the same treatment that they would get.”

But while Mamakwa said he did have to reflect deeply on the comment, it didn’t hurt him. Not deeply anyway, and sadly, it is because it has happened too often.

“It didn't faze me because I'm so used to racism. I have normalized and accepted racism,” said Mamakwa. “It's water off the duck's back. I'm not sure if it's a survival mechanism, I don't know. But that's what I do. I’m not going to change him, that’s who he is.”

Mamakwa said he did receive a call from the premier, “It was 2:42 on Friday (March 12),” but that it was short. And while he did appreciate the call, he did not feel it was to the level the comment demanded.

“He did apologize,” said Mamakwa. “He said, ‘Sol, this is Doug, I wanted to phone you personally’. And then he went on to say, ‘I'm apologizing for personally attacking you at Question Period, and I shouldn't have done that’. And I responded by saying, ‘You know what Doug, I appreciate you phoning me, you actually phoning me personally, I appreciate that.

What I didn't say was, ‘You know what, I accept your apology’.”

Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com