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Indigenous leadership key to COVID-19 case decline, says minister Marc Miller

  • April 08, 2021

Indigenous leadership and the early deployment of vaccines have caused COVID-19 cases on reserves to drop more than 85 per cent since January, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said today.

At the start of the year, there were more than 5,000 active cases in First Nations and Inuit communities across Canada — that number had dropped to 635 by April 6, Miller said.

“Continued uptick of vaccines in Indigenous communities is a large contributing factor to the decline in active cases in addition to the continued respect of public health measures,” he said.

From the pandemic’s start up to April 6, First Nations reserves have seen 25,174 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 24,249 recoveries and 290 deaths.

Miller said that 257,279 vaccine doses have been administered in 612 communities representing 60 per cent of Indigenous adults in First Nation and Inuit communities. 

The minister said there is a strong link between the caseload decline and the early deployment of vaccines in Indigenous communities, but leadership also played a key role.

“You can’t underplay or underestimate the work that the Indigenous leadership has done to deploy the public health measures in communities to really drive down the 5,000 active cases in January,” he said. 

Miller said that Indigenous leadership has proven through the pandemic that it is competent, effective and capable of coping with the unprecedented strains facing the country.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says the 85 per cent drop in the number of COVID-19 cases on reserve in Canada is largely due to Indigenous leadership. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde congratulated Indigenous leaders and the federal government for working together during the crisis and said First Nations need continued access to vaccines to ensure progress continues.

“I congratulate and commend all First Nations, health professionals and frontline workers for their dedication that has kept our people safe over the past year,” Bellegarde told CBC News in an emailed statement. 

“I lift up Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister Miller, as well as all who have worked to ensure First Nations are equipped to respond to the unique health needs of their people and communities.”

Beating vaccine hesitancy

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, told CBC News that his team has provided leadership support in a number of different areas.

“Inuit leadership have provided support through public health, food security and mental wellness initiatives that are rooted in Inuit culture and values,” he said in an emailed statement.

“Inuit-specific funding for mental health support via the Indigenous Community Support Fund, in addition to vaccine prioritization for Inuit, have been key elements of this response and have helped keep COVID-19 numbers relatively low across Inuit Nunangat.”

 That leadership, Miller said, has seen Indigenous people in Canada adhere to public health measures while eagerly stepping up to be vaccinated. The result, he said, is that a population that faced a risk of infection of three to five times that of non-Indigenous Canadians now has a death rate less than half of the national rate.

“What we’ve seen in the aggregate, on the whole, is really exemplary work across Canada — high uptake in communities, going as high as the high 90 per cent,” he said. “It’s a testament to the work that has been done by Indigenous leadership to get as much information into people’s hands so that they can make a choice, and the choice is overwhelmingly yes, to get this vaccine.”

Dr. Evan Adams, deputy chief medical officer for Indigenous Services Canada, said that some vaccine hesitancy has emerged in some Indigenous communities.

“I think we were worried that there would be a lot of hesitancy. It doesn’t seem to be quite the case. I would say that generally our vaccinations have been quite highly accepted and we would like to continue to do better,” he said.

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