A COVID-19 vaccination pop-up site is now open in Winnipeg to immunize health-care workers employed in Manitoba First Nations communities as well as Indigenous traditional healers and knowledge keepers.
In total, 889 appointments for first doses will be available in the coming days.
Michael David Blacksmith, a traditional ceremony and sun dance leader from Pimicikamak Cree Nation, was immunized on Monday when the pop-up site opened.
“This morning I thought, ‘I think they saved my life from COVID’,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday.
The pop-up site, which is located off of Notre Dame Avenue, was announced on Feb. 1 as part of the province’s targeted vaccine rollout, which focuses on those who are most vulnerable to severe outcomes of COVID-19.
It will close after the first doses are given, and reopen to administer the second round of shots, says Dr. Marcia Anderson, who is part of the Manitoba First Nation Pandemic Response Team.
She says another pop-up site may be opened in Brandon if there is demand.
Proud of response
Anderson says she’s proud of this First Nations-led health response.
“Those responses are best when we’re working together with our traditional healing systems as well as our First Nations health experts and our provincial counterparts to bring all of the best that health and healing systems have to offer our people,” she said.
“It’s by and for First Nations citizens,” said Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization.
Dr. Barry Lavallee, the CEO of Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin, said the vaccine is part of preserving intergenerational knowledge.
“It’s important that we focus the good medicine, the vaccines, towards our elders and our health-care providers to be able to sustain our systems of knowledge, education and health through the next several months as we move through this pandemic,” he said.
“We don’t find Cree or Ojibway or those languages anywhere else except on these lands, so the elders and the knowledge keepers for us are really important for seven generations from now.”
In total, 11,800 doses of vaccine have been allocated to First Nation communities by the Manitoba government so far.