Some Cree feel left out of COVID-19 vaccination campaign

The Cree health board began a regional vaccination campaign in mid-January in the nine Cree communities which make up Quebec Ministry of health's region 18. Those who live outside region 18, have yet to get access to the vaccine.

More than 400 Cree living near Amos, Que., don't yet have access to the vaccine

Annie Trapper Weistche and her husband Kenneth Weistche live near Amos, Que. They are fighting to get Cree living outside the traditional Cree territory access to the COVID-19 vaccine. (submitted by Kenneth Weistche)

Some Cree living outside the jurisdictional Cree health board boundaries in northern Quebec say they feel worse than second-class citizens when it comes to getting access to a COVID-19 vaccine.   

"Where are our rights as Cree people?," said Kenneth Weistche, who lives with his wife Annie Trapper Weistche in the non-Cree town of La Corne, just south of Amos in northern Quebec.

"We are very, very angry."

The Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay began its regional vaccination campaign in mid-January in the nine Cree communities that make up Region 18, an administrative region under the Ministry of Health and Social Services of Quebec. 

As of Monday, more than 9,000 Cree had been inoculated, according to officials. They are among the first Indigenous people in the province to receive the vaccine. 

But for those like Weistche, Trapper Weistche and more than 400 other Cree whose families' traditional territories are scattered throughout the Amos area — and therefore outside of Region 18 — they have been left out so far, he said.

Where are our rights as Cree people?- Kenneth Weistche, Cree living near Amos

Many in the group are band members of the 10th and newest Cree community of Washaw-Sibi, while others are registered band members in other Cree communities such as Waskaganish and Waswanipi, Weistche said.

"We are registered beneficiaries [of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement] and registered band members."

Worried about elders

Weistche and Trapper Weistche say they are most concerned with Cree elders in the group and those with underlying health conditions.

"[My mother] is about to turn 81," said Trapper Weistche.

"I'm worried about her [and others] because a lot of people ... a lot of elders out there are dying. This virus is very, very serious."

Beatrice Reuben Trapper is one of the Cree elders living in the Amos area who hasn't been able to access the COVID-19 vaccine. (submitted by Annie Trapper Weistche)

CBC requested an interview or a statement from the Cree health board on the situation but did not hear back before publication. 

At a council board meeting held regularly between Cree Nation government leadership, community chiefs and leaders of Cree entities such as the health board and school board, the chief of Washaw-Sibi, Annie Mapachee Salt, shared the concerns of her community last week.

"We do have a lot of members trying to get that vaccine," she said. They are [part] of the Cree communities. We are concerned for our members."

There are many other Cree people, post-secondary students for example, who are also outside Region 18 and are still waiting to receive a vaccination.

"The Cree health board is working very hard with Cree leadership to have vaccination centres in the South," said lawyer Paul John Murdoch, secretary for the Cree Nation government, who also spoke at the council board meeting on Jan. 26 and 27.

"It's complicated because the health board is trying to get authorization to deliver a medical service in someone else's backyard." 

Kenneth Weistche has underlying health conditions and tried to access to the COVID-19 vaccine through the Cree community of Waskaganish, where he is a band member, but was denied.  (submitted by Kenneth Weistche)

Weistche said he has underlying health conditions. He said tried to get access to the vaccine through the Cree community of Waskaganish, where he is a band member, but was denied. 

"They did not grant us access into the communities to receive the vaccine," said Weistche.

Weistche and his wife said they will continue to push for Washaw-Sibi people and those residing outside region 18 to get access to the COVID-19 vaccine, like other Cree people. 

"We in the Cree nation have always looked at each other as equal[s]," he said.

With files from Jaime Little