Montreal organizations offer COVID-19 vaccine to urban Indigenous population
‘We just want to make health services as accessible as possible,’ says Philippe Meilleur of Native Montreal
Carole Brazeau felt a sense of relief receiving her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
She was among the first Indigenous people to receive the shot at one of three new clinics in Montreal open to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis living in and around the city.
"We're a vulnerable population, it was important that we receive our vaccination as soon as possible," said Brazeau, who is a member of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg.
"We're the same person whether we're in our community or out of our community. It was about time we got vaccinated."
Although Indigenous people are prioritized in the national vaccine rollout, off-reserve and urban populations had been left out of Quebec's plan. It's why Philippe Meilleur, executive director of Native Montreal, has spent the last few months advocating and working to make the clinics a reality.
"I knew I was going to get the vaccine at some point through my community and I felt kind of ashamed, as a director and local leader, I wasn't able to convince the government at first to change those strict criteria, that if you're urban Indigenous, you're treated the same as the general population," said Meilleur.
"As an organization, we just want to make health services as accessible as possible."
WATCH: Philippe Meilleur of Native Montreal talks about the efforts to vaccinate urban Indigenous people:
The clinics are organized by a number of Indigenous organizations and Montreal's public health team, and are open to Indigenous adults and their families until May 10. Meilleur said 730 people have registered so far, with about 300 already vaccinated since they opened on April 23.
"Given the decades and decades of people who had adverse experiences because of systemic racism, for me, having this place to go to get the shot by people that I know was critical," said Craig Commanda.
Commanda, who is also from Kitigan Zibi, chose not to return to his home community when its vaccination program was held last month.
"For me to go there and get the shot I think would have posed more risk not to just myself but to other people versus being here and having the patience. I think it was a better decision in the end," he said.
That was also the case for Jen Jerome who is Mi'kmaw from Gesgapegiag. Her first dose is booked for tomorrow at the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal, one of the other organizations involved with the clinics.
She said the friendship centre is a place she's familiar with. She has been going there since she was a child and now sits on its board of directors.
"That's why I chose that space instead of the other space they were offering. I would prefer a space that I'm comfortable in and that my family knows as well. We're all familiar with the NFCM," said Jerome.
"What's really good too is that you know there's other Indigenous community members who are getting vaccinated at the same time. And who knows, you might see familiar faces that you haven't seen in so long."