Shawanaga, Wasauksing First Nations hold their first COVID vaccination clinics

·3 min read

The chief of the Shawanaga First Nation near Parry Sound was among the first people in his community to roll up his sleeve and receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on March 16.

Chief Wayne Pamajewon said other elders from the territory followed him in getting their shots, as did other younger adult members of the community at the first COVID vaccine clinic held in the territory. The clinic, held at the First Nation’s community centre, was organized by the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit in partnership with health-care workers from the territory. About 200 people were expected to be vaccinated at the clinic.

Pamajewon said there was frustration on the First Nation about the length of time it took to get the vaccine.

“We stood our ground and kept pursuing it. It has taken quite a while to get to this point but there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it or anything anybody could have done about it. It was all up to the manufacturing of the vaccination,” the chief said. “We have had a few people who have indicated they are not going to get the shot. But as I said before, I wasn’t going to force anyone and I can’t force anyone to take it.”

Pamajewon said he feels fortunate COVID has not made its way onto his territory. The First Nation did have a scare back in December of last year when a student, who goes to school at the Shawanaga First Nation community, tested positive for COVID. But that student did not live at the territory and testing of students and staff at the school revealed there had been no community spread of the virus.

“I’m more relaxed about things now but I am always frustrated about what the government is going to do. But I am very relieved that the vaccine is finally here,” the chief said. "I credit our people for taking the advice of the leadership and health officials and go along with how we have adapted to COVID. They’ve been very good about that. I don’t think we could have handled this any better. Our people did awesome, including our front-line workers and our staff.”

The chief said the territory’s leadership made a point of not being heavy-handed in their instructions to community members about COVID-19. He said residents accepted their directives when it came to masking, social distancing and avoiding unnecessary travel and visiting. The chief added that his members realized that if those protocols were violated, there was the potential for the virus to turn deadly. He said his people understand that even after they receive their first dose of the vaccine, they must continue to follow the COVID protocols.

Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller said it was his understanding that the vaccine was rolled out earlier on two First Nations in Muskoka, Moose Deer Point and Wahta, because the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit received more doses of the vaccine than did the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, which covers Shawanaga.

That health unit stated in an email that the vaccine rollout on First Nations territories in the North Bay-Parry Sound region was a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs. Officials were not able to address the perceived delay in the rollout.

“A framework was developed that designated First Nations communities into a priority matrix. Vaccine is being rolled out based on this matrix. We are not at liberty to share this matrix,” the email stated.

Meanwhile, the Wasauksing First Nation, which adjoins Parry Sound and is also covered by the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, was also set to host its own COVID-19 vaccination clinic in the territory on March 16 and 17.

​John McFadden is a Local Journalism Reporter with the Parry Sound North Star, and LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.

John McFadden, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,