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My Home Community Urgently Needs the Vaccine. Who Will Hear My Call?

The Nisga’a, like many remote First Nations, rely on coming together for survival. But the shots have yet to arrive.

Ginger Gosnell-Myers 25 Jan 2021TheTyee.ca

Ginger Gosnell-Myers is Nisga’a and Kwakwak’awakw and has been appointed as the first Indigenous Fellow with the Simon Fraser University Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue.

If you have ever lived in a First Nations community in northern British Columbia, you know how important connection and support between one another is. In the north, our communities have always recognized that coming together is a protective factor against the ongoing systemic attack on Indigenous cultural knowledge and languages.

I grew up in my Nisga’a community of Gitlax̱t'aamiks (named New Aiyansh during my time there). Gathering food, preparing for feasts, fundraising events — this way of life where neighbours take care of one another is normal.

In such smaller remote communities, the act of coming together is reflected through regular acts of reciprocity towards one another. It’s a type of social cohesion that major urban centres struggle to recreate.

What I’ve learned is that our coming together to care for one another is incredibly important, especially for all the times when access to mainstream supports have been so limited.

The many acts of coming together are also crucial in meeting life’s needs in all their forms. Being far away from urban centres makes travel necessary, especially if communities do not have grocery stores, gas stations and health clinics. Unfortunately, not everyone has the means to go into town for the necessary provisions, so reaching out to have someone help you occasionally requires breaking COVID-19 bubbles, because basic needs must be met.

First Nations communities in B.C. are especially struggling to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions because, culturally, coming together is the only way we know how to live. But small acts of meeting for quick grocery drop-offs are now considered risky.

The challenges of COVID-19 for First Nations are worsened by their distance from health care. Terrace, B.C. is the urban hub that meets shopping and health needs for many isolated northwest communities.

But even the Terrace hospital is hours away for many of them, and now during COVID-19 that hospital is full beyond capacity. Patients are being sent to the next nearest hospital, either an additional two hours to Prince Rupert, or seven hours to Prince George or even further to Vancouver Island.

The B.C. government’s vaccination plan gives priority to remote First Nations. But within that broad intention, there is little information on which communities will be the first to receive the vaccine.

For the Nisga’a Nation, which saw COVID-19 infections within the Nass Valley rising to become the highest per-capita in the province in December, it’s concerning that Nisga’a communities are not on the province’s highest priority list.

Given the high rates of COVID-19, the distance between Nisga’a communities and the nearest hospitals, the significant population of Elders and the reliance people have on each other for necessities, why haven’t decision-makers given the nation priority for vaccinations? That was initially the plan, according to Northern Health and the First Nations Health Authority.

If it were a matter of ensuring extremely remote First Nations communities were prioritized, that would be fine.

But that has not been the case. The list of the first 18 First Nations communities did not include the Nisga’a Nation, but did provide vaccines to less remote and at-risk communities.

There is no clear rationale for the government’s priorities, and little transparency about the criteria and the process. I’m left wondering how well decision-makers know the north if they cannot see the crisis underway and are failing to respond when given the opportunity.

With the vaccines slowly being rolled out, we all wait in anticipation and hope that it is getting to the people that need it most as COVID-19 challenges us in ways never imagined.

Hard choices are made every single day. But during this difficult time, please remember northern B.C. First Nations communities, like the Nisga’a.  [Tyee]

Read more: Indigenous, Coronavirus

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