As Canada tries to address racism in healthcare, the country’s vaccine rollout needs to focus more on Indigenous communities, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Wednesday.
His statements come amid virtual meetings with Indigenous group leaders about how to build trust with their communities and end systemic racism in healthcare.
“We know that Indigenous populations, we have the numbers, we have the casualties to prove that they are three and a half times to five times more vulnerable to COVID-19,” he added.
“If anything, the science is saying that priority needs to be given to Indigenous communities,” he said.
He also stressed structural changes needed to be addressed to ensure the vaccine can make its way through to these remote communities.
“The novel coronavirus pandemic has provided governments with an opportunity to “test” their commitment to providing culturally sensitive health-care, and stress the importance of prioritizing Indigenous peoples in the vaccine rollout,” he said.
“When it comes to issues like racism, systemic racism, discrimination, every leader in this country has a leadership role to play in calling it out and getting rid of it,” he added.
“I think the measure of success is coming up with a joint plan as Canadians to hold ourselves up to the standards that we have set for ourselves and recognize that in some respects we are failing, but we can meet them together as a country,” he said.
To date, approximately 37,000 people across 196 Indigenous communities have received the first dose of the vaccine.
On Jan. 21, the Inuit region of Nunatsiavut in Newfoundland and Labrador announced 71 per cent of the adult population had received the first shot of the Moderna vaccine and vaccinations in the territory are well underway.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Wednesday it’s time for the government to offer a vaccine rollout plan that specifically addresses the “generation of injustice by giving a clear priority to some of the most vulnerable people.”
“I think one of the things we’ve got to acknowledge is the reason why indigenous communities are vulnerable is because they don’t have the same access to health care,” he said.
He stressed it’s time to see a plan that takes into consideration the limitations and challenges that Indigenous people continue to face.
“It is vitally important,” he said, to get the vaccine to these communities who are “hundreds if not thousands of kilometres (away) from the nearest ventilator or medical centre that can provide the type of care they need.”
For many Inuit, accessing health care in their second or sometimes third language can be problematic, and there are many who are concerned about the vaccine, said Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) President Natan Obed.
“A vaccine confidence is something that has to be earned,” he said.
“We now are working with the federal government and participating and providing perspectives all the way through.”
Obed further stated that the Inuit Leadership Committee has been working with the Government of Canada to ensure that the mistakes of the past surrounding racism within the health care system are not repeated.
For many Indigenous people, there’s also the issue of “mistrust” towards mainstream institutions, Jocelyn Formsma, executive director with the National Association of Friendship Centers, told Global News.
“They are really distrustful of a lot of mainstream institutions, especially health care,” she said
“The government need to not just have the one person on their board or the one Indigenous doctor or nurse, but to understand as a system how the their history has affected Indigenous people and then take the steps to to rectify it through partnerships at the community level,” she said.
She further emphasized that “racism in health care is a fact” and it’s for the “system to amend itself and adjust itself to create trust.”
“I don’t feel like it’s our role as an Indigenous organization or as indigenous people to put forward the effort to create trust in the system,” she said.