The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) says delivering the COVID-19 vaccine to First Nations communities must be a priority once it becomes available.
FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said access to the vaccine is a matter of treaty rights.
“First and foremost … we come from that inherent and treaty right aspect, that Treaty Right to Health,” he said. “In there, there’s what we call the Medicine Chest Clause. When our ancestors signed treaties in the eighteen and nineteen-hundreds, that guaranteed us health and medicine chest supplies and services.”
The FSIN has spent the last seven months lobbying the federal government on this topic. Cameron said this is an important way of keeping Indigenous people at the forefront of policy decisions.
“Obviously, the priority is that First Nations people are going to be safe and taken care of and live a long, happy, healthy life,” he said.
FSIN Vice Chief David Pratt has argued that ensuring First Nations communities’ priority access to the vaccine will be good public health policy.
“Our First Nations communities have higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, asthma and other health conditions that put them at an even higher risk of serious complications or even life-threatening problems if they contract COVID-19,” he wrote in a news release. “These elders and vulnerable community members must be the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
“Every day they go without this vaccine, their lives and the lives of their [community’s] most vulnerable are at exceptional risk.”
Cameron said has found that federal ministers are receptive to these arguments so far.
“I had a conversation with the federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu and the Indigenous Services of Canada Minister Mark Miller last week,” he said. “And the comment we got is that they are going to make sure First Nations are a priority when vaccines are available.”
Cameron said that when the government begins distributing vaccines, the doses intended for Indigenous communities must go directly to the First Nations, not be handled by an intermediary.
“We need the vaccine directly to us,” he said. “We don’t need anybody else to deliver it for us – we can do it. We have the capacity, we have the knowledge, we have the manpower, and we’re ready. We’re ready to deliver once the vaccines become available.”
As of earlier this week, almost 1,160 cases of COVID-19 and 17 active outbreaks had been reported across First Nations communities in Saskatchewan.