First Nations communities across Canada are being disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 virus.
The latest numbers from the federal government revealed that cases on reserves are now 3.3 times the respective rate of the general population.
Experts say the Delta-driven fourth wave coupled with vaccine hesitancy, due to years of medical racism and abuse, has led to the spike in COVID-19 cases.
Meadow Musqua has a number of family members fighting for their life at Regina General Hospital, where she has spent the last week, outside, dancing to heal her kokum (grandmother) and others.
“It makes me want to break down every single day, knowing that how much of my family is getting sick catching the COVID,” the 17-year-old said while fighting back tears.
She said not getting the vaccine is a mistake.
“At least get a small vaccine, at least one,” she said. “My uncle didn’t do it and he didn’t get the vaccine and he’s paying the price for it right now.”
Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the University of Toronto, spent the summer providing COVID-19 vaccines to nine Indigenous communities.
“When COVID takes hold … it can be devastating because there is severe overcrowding in these communities, some of these communities don’t have clean water (and) there is an over-representation of certain health factors that put them at risk, like diabetes,” she told Global News.
Shkaabe Makwa medical director Dr. James Makokis said numbers there have climbed as high as 13 times the respective rate of the general population.
He is worried that as hospitals in Alberta and Saskatchewan become overwhelmed, Indigenous people who are seeking care are being turned away and told to return to their communities for medical attention.
“There’s very few, if any, health practitioners who can provide primary care, let alone acute care and in an Indigenous community,” explained Makokis. “(Indigenous people) are already being turned away. So when you add the layer of triage to that, it is very scary to think of what might happen.”
Makokis is part of a project focused on prevention called The Power of 100.
“We’re aiming to increase our vaccination rates to 100 per cent amongst all of our community and members so that we will be here in a hundred years,” Makokis said.
The family doctor explained that the program also aims to educate those who are concerned about the vaccine.
“That is why our elders in 1876 enshrined in our treaty the medicine chest clause,” said Makokis. “So if there was illnesses in the future that our people would encounter during times of famine and pestilence like we are now, that we have access to the medications and medicines to be able to help our people.”
Without continued access to medication and proper services, as well as land-back discussions and a greater understanding of cultural-based care, he fears the inequities his people face will not go away.
In Musqua’s experience, the problems still exist.
“A few days ago, we were told that we weren’t allowed to be here and that we needed special permission to dance here,” she said.
Ultimately, Musqua continued practising the traditions passed down to her, on the land her ancestors have inhabited for generations.
“It is wonderful to know your prayers are being answered and your healing dances are working.”
As of Sept. 28, First Nations and Inuit communities have seen 40,761 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases. And 419 people have died, according to government data.
More than 600 communities have vaccination programs in progress, with 344,525 people 12-plus having received second doses.