The province has sidelined Métis in matters related to COVID-19 vaccination, according to the Manitoba Metis Federation.
In an interview in which he called Premier Brian Pallister cruel, the federation’s president David Chartrand said the premier is playing politics with the lives of his people.
There is no plan in place to vaccinate vulnerable Métis, Chartrand said.
"Why are the Métis being left out," he asked. "This is supposed to be based on a distinct approach and you’re leaving out 10 per cent of the population."
Chartrand said it’s political: Pallister doesn’t want to recognize the federation as a representative government and he doesn’t want to recognize Métis as a rights-bearing people of the province.
When asked during Tuesday’s media briefing what, if any, work is being done with the federation by the Manitoba’s COVID-19 Vaccine Implementation Task Force, Dr. Joss Reimer did not answer the question.
"We have a partnership in place and we’re working with First Nations experts on the roll up to the highest risk communities that we’ve seen disproportionate outcomes related to COVID so far, and that’s also in compliance with the allocation of doses that are supposed to go to remote and isolated communities in Manitoba," Reimer said.
"We also have been engaging with the Manitoba Metis Foundation on some of the communications aspects that the government needs to do to ensure that we have good uptake and understanding about the process – the vaccine itself and when people can expect to be eligible."
While Chartrand is happy to know First Nations and Inuit are at the table with the province, and the federal government via the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, and he applauds the data sharing agreement between First Nations and the province – the same can’t be said for Métis, who are as vulnerable, if not more.
"We did a four-year study, irrefutable, using the health data of 72,000 citizens in our province, and it showed a Métis have the highest chronic illnesses. We surpass First Nations when it comes to diabetes, arthritis, all these other chronic illness, asthma. We have now surpassed First Nations in our health conditions," Chartrand said.
"And that’s scary. That’s what COVID seeks."
There is no data sharing agreement between the province and Métis. While the federation holds the information about its citizens, the province has wanted to use an aggregate system through self-identification, Chartrand said — pushing the federation out of the information loop.
Which means the only information the federation has about its people and COVID-19 rates are entirely by word of mouth. For example, Chartrand’s nephew contracted COVID-19, as did the rest of his household of seven.
"Not once was he asked if he’s Indigenous," Chartrand said, adding his nephew’s last name is obviously Indigenous.
He also knows of other households within which COVID-19 spread, but because of the lack of cooperation between the federation and the province, there is no way to grasp the whole picture.
Meanwhile, the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team knows exactly what their big picture is – not good. Manitoba First Nations make up 61 per cent of active cases. As reported previously, this is due to poor health care, overcrowding in homes, food insecurity, among other troubling lacks most Canadians do not experience.
For Chartrand, that’s especially concerning because, he repeated, Métis have even worse health outcomes than First Nations.
He said the federation was invited to a couple of committees. One was "cultural" he said – the one to discuss how to help out with community uptake.
"He (Pallister) cornered me. There was no purpose for us to be there. It wasn’t about (Métis) getting vaccines. It was about helping convince those getting vaccines to not be afraid of vaccines and help find culturally appropriate ways to help First Nations get vaccines," Chartrand said.
The other invitation had to do with helping find buildings for future vaccination sites.
"So, we’re saying, why would you invite us to these meetings and we have no vaccines to talk about. You’re asking us to choose buildings. You’re asking us to help you and maybe negotiate and find spaces where vaccines can be given," Chartrand said.
"Then, we don’t know when we’re even going to get them. We’re going to create false hope out there with these Métis villages that are out there, mixed with all kinds of population. You’re saying to us that we have to go out there, help you find these buildings, but we have no clue if we’re even getting vaccines."
Chartrand has a plan B in the works, should the province continue to sideline Métis. He said he has been speaking with Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller, as well as Dan Vandal, Minister of Northern Affairs and MP for Saint Boniface-Saint Vital.
He said both agree there will be an alternative plan if the province doesn’t step up.
"So there is a plan being discussed with them. But, they’re hoping, because they don’t want to intrude in jurisdictions, that the province does the right thing. They’re pressuring the province right now," he said.
Neither Indigenous Services Canada, Miller’s press secretary or Vandals office replied to queries by deadline.
In the spring or summer, when the pandemic settles down, Chartrand intends on getting a thorough independant review carried out on both the federation’s and the province’s performance related to Manitoba Métis and COVID-19.
» Michele LeTourneau covers Indigenous matters for The Brandon Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.