'Protecting our youth': Indigenous-led vaccination event in Alberta aims to boost inoculation rates
TORONTO -- Indigenous communities in Alberta face some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, on top of a provincial health system that can't keep up with the rising COVID-19 cases. But the organizers of an Indigenous-led vaccination event in Alberta are hoping to boost inoculation rates in their communities, particularly among Indigenous youth.
Vaxx Fest is running from Friday to Sunday in the Stoney Nakoda Nation and the Tsuut’ina Nation. Cree physician Dr. James Makokis and Blackfoot physician Dr. Lana Potts, the two organizers of the event, spoke with CTV's Your Morning on Friday.
"There's many factors that are preventing Indigenous peoples coming to get their vaccine, and a lot of that is centered in mistrust and previous government policies, which were genocidal in nature," said Makokis.
Some examples of such policies include the extermination of the buffalo, the residential school system, the Sixties Scoop and the coerced sterilization of Indigenous women, Makokis said.
"There are very good reasons why Indigenous people are mistrusting processes like this and they are not the people that are protesting outside of hospitals for their freedoms."
Potts said the vaccination event is based on the idea of the "Power of 100," inspired by Indigenous teachings of what buffalo do when they face a threat.
"The whole idea is really protecting our youth and protecting our future," said Potts. "We looked at a concept around our teaching of our buffalo and how when our buffalo face a threat, they will circle their young and face that threat, head on."
Indigenous Services Canada says there are currently over 1,800 active COVID-19 cases in First Nation reserves across Canada.
The median age on First Nation reserves in Alberta is 21. In an effort to reach Indigenous youth, Vaxx Fest organizers are offering a chance to win prizes, such as a PlayStation 5 console and a MacBook, as well as meet-and-greets with popular Indigenous influences and TikTokers.
The young population "necessitates the need to do something different and innovative," Makokis said.
"We know the devastation that pandemics have had on Indigenous peoples in the past with smallpox TB, measles, mumps, rubella, all of these historical virgin soil epidemics here on Turtle Island," he added. " And so, our people are very familiar with the devastation that this can cause. And at the same time, we realize our own personal responsibility to work to protect everyone."