This First Person article is the experience of Melanie Ferris, a parent and member of the Long Plain First Nation in southern Manitoba. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
In December 2020, I helped plan an online memorial for a colleague, who passed away due to COVID-19. He was only eight years older than me. On the winter solstice, I stood near his grave in frigid weather as he was lowered into the ground.
Wrapping one’s mind around the impact of COVID-19 is challenging when we don’t know anyone who has been personally impacted. But the illness caused by the coronavirus — and the importance of the public health measures — hits home when you see people passing away from it.
The pandemic was underway for nine months before I knew someone who had contracted COVID-19. But I was always afraid of it, due to my status as a single mom.
My boy is the most important person in my life.– Melanie Ferris
When I went for my first (and only) COVID-19 test last October, my son and I discussed our need to make plans for what we would do if my test came back positive. Would I isolate away from him? Who would stay with him if I needed to leave home? It was a major relief when my test came back negative.
Personal pandemic response
I’ve been a single mom for more than a decade. My boy is the most important person in my life, and I take my responsibility of being his mother seriously. My son relies on me. I hope to be around for him for many years to come.
It is these thoughts that cross my mind when I’m figuring out how to respond to the pandemic. I’ve followed the news about the COVID-19 vaccines with great interest.
Thanks to the work of Indigenous health experts and advocates in Manitoba, our province has access to data that shows COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on First Nations people. More of us are becoming hospitalized, ending up in the intensive care unit, and we are even dying at disproportionate rates.
This data, along with advocacy from First Nations leadership, is helping our population get prioritized access to the COVID-19 vaccines. All 63 First Nations in Manitoba will soon offer the vaccine to everyone 18 and older. Some started mass vaccination clinics, including the Long Plain First Nation.
As an adult member of Long Plain, I’m eligible to receive my vaccine if I travel there to get it. I reached out to the clinic facilitator to book my first dose and excitedly drove to Long Plain to get my vaccine last week.
When I arrived at the clinic, staff filled out my consent form for me. How luxurious! I was led to a chair where I would wait for two nurses with a rolling cart to make their way toward me. I waited mere minutes until they reviewed my consent form, asked if I had questions and proceeded to vaccinate me.
The needle barely hurt. The nurse put a Band-Aid on my arm and gave me a note showing what time I could leave. They asked me to wait 15 minutes to observe whether I’d have a reaction to the vaccine.
Listen to the medical professionals and the science of it.– Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches
As I waited, Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches and his son, Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, both received their vaccines. I asked them why they chose to get one.
“I really think people should get vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s that important,” Chief Dennis Meeches told me.
“I know you have that free will to decide and you need to do some research on it, but more importantly, as a country and as a province and within our communities, we need to develop what they call herd immunity, so I’m very, very supportive of getting vaccinated,” he said.
“I have an older father. He’s 81 years old, and aunties, uncles.… We need to protect them and we need to protect our families, so don’t be afraid of the vaccine. Listen to the medical professionals and the science of it.”
Example for elders
Then Grand Chief Jerry Daniels told me:
“I took the vaccine today to be an example for our elders and for the people in our community.
“We have to turn the page as it relates to COVID-19. I want to see our community be able to come together again in celebrations, during our powwows and our Treaty Days and our different family gatherings without worrying about getting anyone sick. It’s about our most vulnerable and it’s about saving lives in our communities.”
I send my gratitude to all those who have worked tirelessly to help me access this gift of protection from COVID-19.
Long Plain First Nation hosted vaccine clinics on March 30 and 31. Another clinic is planned for April 7 and 8.