For immediate release
December 3, 2020
Treaty Five Territory, Thompson, MB – Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc. is issuing this statement to respond to ongoing discussions around the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the Province of Manitoba.
Grand Chief Garrison Settee states:
“First Nations throughout Manitoba have worked diligently throughout the pandemic to keep COVID-19 out of our communities. We knew that once COVID-19 came into our First Nations, the impacts would be potentially devastating due to our lack of infrastructure such as housing, clean water, and health care facilities.
MKO is a part of the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team (PRCT), which is a national leader using a First Nations-led collaborative response to the pandemic. The team is well-positioned to provide expertise and ensure equitable access for First Nations people across jurisdictional boundaries and yet the Province of Manitoba had not called on our expertise as it relates to the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine. We have not been invited to have a seat at any planning tables.
Since the Premier is aware that Manitoba has such a large Indigenous population, why is it that we have not been invited to be part of Manitoba’s COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force? It is problematic that Mr. Pallister saying he is concerned about a migration of off-reserve people heading to Northern and remote communities without first speaking with us, the organization that represents Northern First Nations.
Make no mistake, the statements of Premier Pallister are inflammatory and divisive, with the potential of relegating MKO First Nations citizens to the harmful vacuum of the struggle between federal and provincial jurisdictions, and this is unacceptable. As the head of the Province of Manitoba, he should choose his words carefully given the precarious nature of our predicaments during this global pandemic. As MKO First Nation citizens, we should not be put in such harmful circumstances due to our race.
If the Premier truly cares about all Manitobans, he should be engaging directly with us and making informed statements about First Nations and the COVID-19 vaccine. We need to hear and see that he is willing to collaborate with us. We heard from his office this afternoon, after he had gone public with his damaging statements. The statements made today are harmful as they may cause deepening divisions during these incredibly challenging times. All Manitoba citizens must work together in the fight against COVID-19. We absolutely do not need to see an increase in racism experienced by First Nations people as a result of the statements the Premier has made.
It is important for the Premier, and all Manitoba residents to be aware that COVID-19 is having disproportionate impacts on First Nations people.
The provincial data shows that roughly 25 per cent of hospitalizations and 40 per cent of admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) are First Nations people. As of December 2, 2020, First Nations people living off reserve make up more than 50 per cent of new cases among First Nations people, 68 per cent of active cases among First Nations people, 72 per cent of hospitalizations among First Nations people, and 70 per cent of ICU admissions amongst First Nations people. Furthermore, 64 per cent of deaths due to COVID-19 amongst First Nations people are amongst those who live off reserve. These statistics clearly show that First Nations people need to be prioritized for the vaccine, regardless of whether they live on or off reserve.
There are severe outcomes for First Nations people who have COVID-19 in Manitoba. The median age of First Nations people being admitted for hospitalization due to COVID-19 is 50, the age for people being admitted to the ICU is 59, and the age for deaths is 66.
Considering these issues, as well as the logistical challenges that may create barriers for distributing the vaccine to more remote First Nations, we are adamant that there must be First Nations representation on Manitoba’s COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force. I encourage the province, including the Premier, to work closely with First Nations in a collaborative and respectful way to create effective and scientifically valid priority lists, ensure success of the vaccination efforts, and prevent illness and death in our communities.”
For more information:
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) is a non-profit, political advocacy organization that has represented 26 First Nation communities in Manitoba’s North since 1981. The MKO represents more than 72,000 First Nations people.