First Nation leaders share vaccine experiences online to combat hesitation, misinformation

Second Vice-Chief David Pratt said elders have told stories of past experiments so it's important for leadership to set a strong example.

Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Peter Beatty says he doesn't want to lose any more members to COVID-19

Lac La Ronge Indian Band Coun. Gerald McKenzie gets a COVID-19 vaccination on Jan. 8, 2021. He decided to share his experience with others on social media to prove the vaccine is safe. (Submitted by Gerald McKenzie)

Grandmother's Bay's Gerald McKenzie didn't expect to be vaccinated so early. However, on Jan. 8, 2021, the vaccination clinic had an extra dose and gave him a call.  

The Lac La Ronge Indian Band councillor decided to videotape his experience so he could share it with others on social media. 

"It was nice. It didn't hurt at all," McKenzie said. "I needed to show our people that it's safe to take the vaccine. And it's for us it's to keep our people safe, healthy and we don't want to pass on any of the virus that's going on."

McKenzie is one of many Saskatchewan First Nations leaders sharing their experiences with the COVID-19 vaccine to combat vaccine hesitancy and misinformation in their communities. 

Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Peter Beatty, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Second Vice-Chief David Pratt, Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson and Stanley Mission Councillor Linda Charles are just some of the other leaders sharing videos, photographs or stories of themselves or others being vaccinated. 

"Don't let this virus make you shorten your life," Gerald McKenzie said. "If we don't take the vaccine, we're opening ourselves up to that virus because it's not going to go away. That virus is going to stay."

I want you to do the same thing — watch your grandchildren grow up.- Gerald McKenzie

McKenzie said people understand in general that when enough of them are vaccinated things can return to normal. He said the community currently has 16 active cases. However, some misinformation is being shared that people will get really sick or turn into a zombie. 

"[It] will help prevent you from getting sick with COVID-19 and passing it on to other people and to our grandchildren," McKenzie said. 

"I feel happy that I took it and hope for the future, to spend a few more years with my grandchildren and watch them grow up. And I want you to do the same thing — watch your grandchildren grow up."


Beatty, who was also vaccinated earlier than expected, videotaped one of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation's oldest residents getting the shot earlier this month, when a nurse offered him a vaccine. 

"I feel fine. I didn't have any kind of reaction when I got the vaccine last Friday. Just a little bit sore on a little bit from the injection site for maybe half a day or so," Beatty said. 

Beatty said while it was good for him to also get vaccinated it was important to show it's safe. In his nation, most people understand that once everyone is vaccinated they can start to get back to a sense of normalcy, he said, but he's heard some concerns. 

"It's largely due to misinformation on the online sites regarding vaccines. I mean, there's a lot of garbage floating out there in the digital world," Beatty said. "You just have to screen through that and get the correct information.

Beatty reminds people they should go to the World Health Organization's website or Health Canada for correct information on the vaccine development, makeup and trials.

Losing members highlights dangers of COVID

Beatty said the First Nation lost three people to COVID-19 so far during the pandemic, and he hopes people seeing the deadly outcome of the illness inspires them to get the vaccine. 

"It just brings home the point that this disease is serious, that it can have very serious effects, especially on our elderly folks. Not to say that it hasn't affected the young people as well," Beatty said.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 "seems to be a strange, strange type of virus that affects different people in different ways," he said.

Beatty has been working to try and combat misinformation on social media but also on local radio and through teleconferences. He said vaccine supply is limited right now but he's hopeful people will step up to take it when they can to get back to a sense of normalcy in the summer. 


Pratt, an FSIN vice-chief, said he's heard of people not trusting the vaccine for historical reasons. 

"Some of our elders have talked about experiments that happen on them in the past. And, you know, there is some of that stigma that still remains," Pratt said. 

"We got to counter that by setting the example as leaders lining up to take our shot and then sharing our story with any and all potential side effects."

Pratt said he's going to take his first opportunity to get vaccinated, and agreed that a sense of normalcy will be possible when the province meets the threshold of having enough people vaccinated to stop outbreaks. 

"I think that's what every one of us desires," Pratt said. "We want to set that example for our people that when the opportunity comes for them and their turn, that they take that vaccine and let's get it life back to normal."

"We just got to get through this next phase and we're ready to work with the government to ensure that those vaccines are rolled out properly."

(CBC News Graphics)

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With files from Bonnie Allen