Métis and Inuit in Manitoba want better access to COVID-19 vaccines because they say all Indigenous people suffer disproportionate health consequences during the pandemic.
On Wednesday, the province announced First Nations people born in 1945 or earlier can book immunization appointments. That’s 20 years younger than the general population who can start booking appointments.
Métis and Inuit are grouped in with the rest of Manitobans, who are eligible if they were born in 1925 or earlier.
David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Métis Federation, accused Manitoba’s vaccine implementation task force of ignoring Métis in by only making First Nations a priority.
He also called it “insulting” the province planned to make COVID-19 vaccines available to First Nations people without initially requiring proof of identity.
“I must tell you, I was flabbergasted,” Chartrand said.
Initially, people booking an appointment will be able to self-identify as First Nations, without providing proof of their status.
“This would be more in line with Indigenous rights and would respect the ways that colonization has served to disenfranchise First Nations people,” said Dr. Marcia Anderson of the First Nations pandemic response team
Some First Nations people can not obtain official status, she explained.
“They may have had a grandmother who lost their status when she married a non First Nations man and then passed away before she could be reinstated. They may have been adopted out during the Sixties Scoop,” she said.
“They may have applied for their status, but been told they are not eligible because of what are essentially blood quantum rules that are defined for First Nations people by non First Nations people.”
In several weeks, however, specially trained teams will seek to verify the Indigenous identity of people seeking to be vaccinnated, Anderson said.
Chartrand nonetheless said Manitoba is encouraging non-status Indigenous people to lie about their identity in order to get the vaccine.
“It is like throwing out a bait for my people that are scared, that are fearful and know they need a vaccine, want a vaccine to protect their families, themselves and especially their elderly, to go and deny their identity of who they are just to save their lives,” he said.
Anderson said discussions are underway between the province and the MMF about reducing the eligibility age for Métis seeking the vaccine.
Chartrand denied the MMF is part of any discussion.
“We’ve been invited, they say, but we have not ever gone to one meeting,” he said.
Premier Brian Pallister said he would entertain reducing the eligibility age for Métis if it could be demonstrated Métis are at greater risk of experiencing more severe pandemic outcomes — as First Nations leaders did.
“If there’s science behind it, if it makes sense, we should proceed cooperatively to follow the science,” the premir said.
Chartrand said he respects First Nations leaders for negotiating early access to vaccines, but he said Métis face many similar health problems and lower life expectancy.
Arlen Dumas, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, called on the MMF to provide an evidence-based report on COVID-19 prevalence within the Métis population to provide to the province.
Inuit in Manitoba are also calling on the province to provide them with earlier access to COVID-19 vaccines.
“What’s really important to the community that they be seen, that they are provided space to manage their health-care needs in the province of Manitoba when it comes to developing an Inuit-led, Inuit-based … vaccination deployment,” said Rachel Dutton, executive direcor of the Manitoba Inuit Association.
Those conversations are in the works, she said.
Don’t jump the line, premier warns
Anderson also warned Wednesday of “Pretendians” trying jump the queue for the vaccine by claiming to be First Nations.
“This harms First Nations people by taking away opportunities from qualified First Nations people,” she said.
Premier Pallister warned Manitobans not to make false claims.
“You taking someone else’s spot with false information is just a temporary attempt for a cheap victory that in the short term isn’t worth it given the sacrifices of character that you’re going to make if you do that,” he said. “Just don’t do that.”