Southern Chiefs' Organization claims Pallister is fear-mongering over COVID-19 vaccine distribution

·3 min read

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) has expressed that Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has been fear-mongering over the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pallister noted during a media availability on Monday that he was worried First Nations living off-reserve will spread the virus to those living on-reserve if an approved vaccine is prioritized for First Nations.

“It’s unfathomable that those words would come from the mouth of a leader in a province where First Nation people are in the midst of a modern-day health crisis,” said SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.

“Instead of creating an environment of empathy and cooperation, this premier is stoking the fires of division.”

The latest data has shown that First Nations across Canada have to be a priority for an approved vaccine.

According to Indigenous Services Canada, the number of new and active COVID-19 cases is steadily increasing within First Nations with 1,713 active cases.

“I hope the premier did not have an ulterior motive with his inflammatory words,” said Daniels.

“Anyone should be able to see why First Nation people need to be at the front of the line for a vaccine. To think or advocate otherwise sets a dangerous and potentially life-threatening precedent.”

In a COVID-19 rapid testing update on Thursday, Pallister said that he has been advocating for a nationally coordinated distribution plan for the COVID-19 vaccine, including a national strategy for the vaccine to Indigenous people.

“As you know, we have the largest percentage of Indigenous people in our province. Unfortunately, the rate of infection among Indigenous Manitobans is higher than non-Indigenous people,” said Pallister.

The federal government has told the province that they will be holding back a portion of Manitoba’s vaccine which will be allocated to Indigenous communities.

Pallister said that this would mean Manitobans that do not live in Northern and Indigenous communities would be the least likely to be able to get the vaccine in the country.

“This puts Manitobans at the back of the line. This hurts Manitobans, to put it mildly. We will have the least amount of vaccines available for everyone else in the province,” he said.

“This is unfair, and this is not what our Indigenous leaders want. I will be meeting with them next week to discuss this important issue, and I welcome their input, but I do not believe this approach is helpful or healthy.”

First Nation people in Manitoba constitute 11.4% of the general population, but account for approximately 19% of current COVID-19 cases, 25% of the province’s hospitalizations, and 38% of Intensive Care Unit patients.

In response to the SCO’s concerns, Pallister said that if talking honestly and openly about how getting the vaccine to people is fear-mongering then he is guilty of that action.

“What’s fearful for Manitoba is not knowing when they get the vaccine and how the rollout is going to occur. We are trying to do our best to get that clear,” said Pallister.

“I am trying to address fear and replace it with certainty and understanding of when we get the vaccine. I think that is what Manitobans want me to do, and that is my job.”

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