Manitoba·Point of View

Mr. Premier, you owe the First Nations people of Manitoba an apology

MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee cites ongoing inequities in First Nations, that are exacerbated during the pandemic, and requests an apology from Premier Brian Pallister for comments he made about vaccine rollout plans.

MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee slams Pallister's vaccine rhetoric, cites inequities in services, health care

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee: "Infrastructure that is taken for granted by people in the south simply does not exist on reserves in northern Manitoba." (Submitted by Melanie Ferris)

Last week, the premier of Manitoba garnered international attention with his press conference where he begged people to stay home and raised the "emotional" issue of COVID-19 vaccines. 

While many First Nations people living in Manitoba are already pretty clear about the premier's feelings toward us, he made them even clearer when he explained that he felt it was unfair for First Nations people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine "first."

He suggested this puts Manitobans at the "back of the line." It's unfortunate that I have to say this, but First Nations citizens living in this province are Manitobans as well.

"The federal government's allocation approach is going to hurt Manitoba," said the premier. "Manitobans who do not live in northern and Indigenous communities would be the least likely to get a vaccine in the country … this puts Manitobans at the back of the line. This hurts Manitobans, to put it mildly … this is unfair and this is not what our Indigenous leaders want." 

Manitoba premier calls on feds to provide extra COVID-19 vaccine doses for First Nations

CBC News Manitoba

5 months ago
4:44
Premier Brian Pallister says a federal proposal to reserve a portion of Manitoba's vaccine allotment for First Nations would leave the province with the least number of doses for the rest of the population. 4:44

It's rather odd that the premier purports to know what Indigenous leaders in Manitoba want when he hasn't even discussed the issue of vaccines, or any issues related to the pandemic, with us.

It's rare for the premier of Manitoba to meet with us and engage on any issues at all, despite our repeated attempts to get face time with him.

The premier asked to meet with me today, Dec. 8. In response, I asked that he apologize to Indigenous peoples and all Manitobans for his divisive comments. I also asked that he include our First Nations health expert, Dr. Barry Lavallee, in our discussion. His office cancelled the meeting request shortly thereafter.

First Nations struggle with outdated water systems, with some houses on reserve not hooked up to modern water systems to bring running water to their homes. Four of the First Nations I represent in northern Manitoba are not connected to the Hydro grid, so they rely on using dirty diesel fuel, fuel oil and wood to heat their homes.

As well, we have overcrowded housing issues in First Nations and the majority of people who experience homelessness in urban centres are Indigenous people. In short, infrastructure that is taken for granted by people in the south simply does not exist on reserves in northern Manitoba.

Online learning is not an option for many First Nations people. Why? Simply because there is a major lack of connectivity in northern Manitoba. First Nations struggle to access the internet in an age where we ask people to rely on things such as online COVID-19 screening tools to help determine whether they should seek out a test.

Anyone who clearly understands science and economics would agree with the reasons behind providing vaccines to First Nations people first.

Making it a priority to vaccinate First Nations people once a vaccine is available will reduce the burden on Manitoba's health care system, which is already operating well over capacity. Manitoba data is clearly showing that First Nations people are being disproportionately impacted by this deadly virus.

Remember the facts

For those who believe the messaging being delivered at Brian's emotional appearances, that he truly cares about Manitobans, I remind you of these facts:

The premier has made steady and ongoing cuts to health care that has led us to have fewer emergency departments and intensive care units. Our health care system is operating well over capacity. The billing rates of Manitoba Hydro services for First Nations and other Manitobans have increased right across the province.

"We believe it's important to develop a co-ordinated plan," said the premier of the vaccine rollout, and yet, this is a "leader" who has not even taken five minutes of his time over the last eight months to meet with me, and his speech from the throne does not even acknowledge or even mention the word "racism." 

Mr. Premier, you owe us an apology.

I sat across the table from you before this pandemic in the legislature. It is hard for me to believe you hold such disdain for us by suggesting that the proposed vaccine rollout is "unfair" to Manitobans.

We did not ask for these living conditions — they were imposed upon us. We have not been unreasonable. We are a strong and resilient people and we will persevere as we have always done, even in the face of racism and your divisive politics.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Grand Chief Garrison Settee is from the Pimicikamak Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba. He is Ininiw and was born and raised in a Cree-speaking home. He served as Chief of his home community from 2008 to 2013. Mr. Settee was elected as Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak in August 2018. He resides in Thompson, Manitoba.

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