A Nehiyaw Perspective
Tristin Greyeyes // Contributor
Jaime Blankinship // Illustrator
To understand why some Indigenous people hesitate to take the COVID-19 vaccine, you must understand the longstanding historical and ongoing systemic racism and discrimination they are dealt with by the government, western medicine and health care professionals.
As you may have learned in school, diseases were used as biowarfare to take land from and control Indigenous people. First Nations people did not have the antibodies to fight these foreign diseases, thus forcing nations to sign treaties in order to access the western medicine that would help save their people. This did not apply to all nations. West Coast First Nations did not sign treaties but were also impacted by the diseases.
This pandemic has tested the strength and resiliency of Indigenous people and First Nation communities, but they persevere yet again and continue to put the health and care of their communities as their top priority.
What you might not have learned in school is that many residential school survivors have testified that children were being experimented on. There are too many other examples of racism that can be found in the healthcare field to list, but here are some modern-day examples: Mothers having their children stolen from them immediately after birth (birth alerts); First Nation children unable to access adequate health care that they need because of payment disputes (Jordan’s Principle); people dying in waiting rooms (Brian Sinclair); downplaying and minimizing patients concerns of wellbeing or over-medicating (Joyce Echquan); being accused of drug and or alcohol abuse and being sent home; and more recently, medical staff have been reported for gambling at the percentage of First Nations’ alcohol levels.
Now that we’ve established the racial inequalities and marginalization within Canada’s healthcare system, the hope is that you might understand where their mistrust lies when having a conversation with a skeptical Indigenous person about vaccines. Often, conversations around vaccination come off patronizing, but having a kinder, gentler approach when speaking about the importance of vaccinations, using plain words, is more constructive and positive. There are many ways to educate without making someone feel crazy for feeling scared. If you don’t have the patience, let Indigenous health care professionals do the talking.
All that being said, there are many Indigenous people and First Nation communities who are taking the vaccinations at their earliest convenience. First Nation communities across so-called Canada have taken the necessary steps to protect their community since the beginning of the pandemic. When it was understood that the older generations were the most vulnerable, leaders took immediate action to protect their elders. Elders are vital to our communities because they hold so much of our cultural knowledge and native language. In Indigenous law, which carries from one nation and culture to another, is that utmost care and respect we have for our elders. This law is a universal responsibility and kinship that we have. We keep our elders in our communities comfortable until it is their time to leave us for the spirit world. Many First Nation communities are being vaccinated, and so are their elders. This pandemic has tested the strength and resiliency of Indigenous people and First Nation communities, but they persevere yet again and continue to put the health and care of their communities as their top priority.
I hope everyone considers others’ well-being and future generations when deciding whether or not to take this vaccination. I do not judge anyone for fearing vaccinations. Fears are legitimate and can impact our livelihoods. I hope those who fear the worst find courage through others to take the vaccination. I want to go back to the ceremony, round dances, powwows, cultural activities with my family, and visit again without fearing passing on a deadly virus. I am so thankful this isn’t going to last forever. I am so excited to go back to those important parts of my life and to be able to raise my children in it.