The Brandon Friendship Centre and Prairie Mountain Health are hosting a vaccine clinic at the (Gi) Kinaa’amaadiiwigamingoons (The Little Teaching Lodge) on College Avenue to ease access to COVID-19 vaccines and provide a safe and welcoming atmosphere.
Knowledge keepers and community leaders Deborah and Frank Tacan are available every Tuesday from 1 to 5 p.m. at the clinic providing care and traditional teachings. The clinic, which opened in March, will run until at least December.
"We’re providing support for people," Deborah said. "We try to help people that are having anxiety; we offer smudge, people come for teachings. It’s for the whole community."
The ultimate goal of the clinics is to encourage people to get the vaccine to help keep themselves, their families and communities safe, while reinforcing Indigenous teachings and perspectives.
A support system has been created at the clinic, ensuring those who visit don’t feel alone, Frank said. He provides drumming during the clinics to help create a peaceful and welcoming atmosphere.
The duo became involved in the clinics through the Brandon Friendship Centre, Frank said. Prairie Mountain Health had approached the Friendship Centre to host a vaccine clinic, and a fruitful relationship was born.
Walk-ins are welcome at the vaccine clinic, but appointments are also available. Deborah said they have seen people travel from as far as Dauphin and Winnipeg to get the jab. Rides and bus tickets are available to those looking to visit the clinic.
Traditionally, the Friendship Centre has served as a space for Indigenous peoples, but the outreach has expanded to include the entire community during the vaccine clinics.
"People are so interested. They love the drumming," Deborah said. "People are relaxed because it’s a welcoming atmosphere … It’s very personable, it’s not just an assembly line."
They have encountered some people who are afraid of the needle, but together they work to help them feel safe and build their confidence. Deborah added there is no pressure to get the COVID-19 shot when visiting the clinic. Instead, they encourage people to come back when they feel ready or if they have any questions about the vaccine.
"In our history, there have been pandemics. We’ve had to get vaccinated; our children are vaccinated from the time they are small," Deborah said. "I understand the fear, but when we think of all the pandemics that have been, millions of people have died in pandemics."
First Nations are struggling after almost two years of living with COVID-19, Frank said. Many have lost their sense of community connections, and it’s challenging coping with crisis for months on end. He added these feelings have only been amplified by the unmarked graves discovered at residential schools across the country. Elders have a duty to step up and start helping the younger generation and reconnecting with communities. This makes it all the more critical to connect and come together at gatherings like the one held at the vaccine clinic each week.
"They can talk to someone if they need to," Deborah said.
Visitors are smudged when they arrive for their vaccine, and they have been handing out smudge kits to those who visit. The kits come with different medicines: white sage to clear one’s eyes, mouth, ears, mind and heart, to foster positive feelings and heal wounds; sweetgrass, "the hair of Mother Earth," bound together in a braid representing the seven sacred teachings and past and future generations bringing them together; cedar, which serves as a cleanser of negative energy; tobacco, a sacred medicine used as an offering and thanks to Mother Earth; and a bowl representing mni wiconi (water of life) bringing together all of the elements in a smudge.
It has been exciting participating in the clinics, Deborah said, explaining they learn something new each day in regards to visitors’ needs.
When the clinics first started, they would hand out traditional medicines. Now, the focus is on handing out teas and offering alternative support for trauma, anxiety and addictions to complement western medicine.
Each clinic offers the chance to connect and focus on the positive, Frank said. He appreciates how cultural perspectives like drumming and smudge are sparking curiosity in visitors. Many leave the clinic sharing their experiences of the traditional teachings and encouraging others to come.
He appreciates the positive feedback as it shows the clinics are proving effective.
"It gets people asking questions. It gets people thinking differently. It doesn’t always have to be pharmaceutical. We can use more natural medicine, too," Deborah said.
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