By Michele LeTourneau
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Calling Metis an “interest group,” as Premier Brian Pallister did Wednesday after touring the Brandon vaccination site, does not sit well with Manitoba Metis Federation David Chartrand.
“It’s insulting,” said Chartrand.
When The Brandon Sun asked Pallister to explain the lack of a COVID-19 data sharing agreement with the federation, including the lack of a partnership to ensure Metis are prioritized for vaccines as First Nations have been, he was quick to bristle.
But instead of answering the question, the premier spoke about Indigenous people generally, First Nations and reconciliation.
“Well, Metis representatives have been at the table and have been part of this. But, of course, Metis people live integrated, for the most part, with the rest of us in the province, as opposed to a lot of the Northern Indigenous communities that do not. And, so, the considerations are not identical, as you would recognize,” he said, when pressed.
When pressed again, he said, “There are significant efforts being made to work with our interest groups in our province, in particular with the Indigenous and Metis people to make sure that we’re doing what’s culturally appropriate, what works well for their population, what’s acceptable, agreeable, sensitive to their needs.
That work is ongoing.”
But Chartrand objects to Pallister’s statements. He said the only committee the federation, a self-governing political representative for Manitoba Metis, has been asked to sit on is about how best to communicate about vaccines, which has nothing to do with the roll-out.
To begin with, Chartrand explained, in some villages, the clear majority will be First Nation and Metis, with very few non-Indigenous people living in them.
Chartrand offers Camperville, on the western shore of Lake Winnipegosis, St. Laurent, established as Fond du Lac in 1824 by Metis, and St. Eustache as examples of predominantly Metis villages.
“Those are Metis villages. The vast majority (of people) are Metis. These are historical Metis villages which existed even before Canada existed, before the Province of Manitoba,” Chartrand said.
“Excuse me, but I can tell you where every Metis person lives. I can tell you their chronic illnesses. I can tell you their education level. I can tell you what universities they’re going to. I can tell you what colleges they’re going to.”
Further, Chartrand said Pallister has a responsibility to establish a distinct process with Metis, and that he’s making excuses not to engage with Metis as a rights-holding Indigenous population.
NDP leader Wab Kinew weighed in, after Pallister’s appearance in Brandon.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Pallister has politicized his relationship with the Metis people in Manitoba. And I think, in this instance, it’s getting in the way of public health,” he said.
He said due to the strong work of First Nations health leaders, the benefits of data sharing and strategizing can be seen, and that the Metis community being able to participate in the same kind of arrangement would probably benefit all Manitobans.
“If there is one group in society that, whether it’s a cultural group, a geographic region, a socio-economic group, that gets left behind, and that becomes the opening by which the virus can spread, then that affects all of us,” Kinew said.
“Then we all have to live with the virus or the public health restrictions that are attempting to combat it.”
He thinks the Metis are raising an important issue and Pallister would do well to dramatically improve his working relationship with them.
Jerry Daniels, the Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO), concurs.
“SCO supports our Metis relatives in their efforts to have allotments of COVID-19 vaccines that they can distribute to their own people,” stated Daniels by email.
“COVID-19 has impacted the Metis population in Manitoba and there needs to be accountability for this. There also needs to be a facts-based approach to vaccine distribution, to ensure they receive a fair amount of vaccines and can keep their most vulnerable people safe. So far, the province has been unwilling to collaborate with the Metis Nation.”
Meanwhile, in a follow-up email from a Pallister spokesperson, Chartrand’s previous statements on this matter were denigrated.
“Contrary to the inaccurate and inflammatory comments made by the president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, the Government of Manitoba appreciates the willingness of the MMF to assist in Manitoba’s COVID-19 response,” stated the spokesperson later Wednesday afternoon.
“We have invited them to work with us, in partnership, to discuss how Metis communities can be supported to enhance their ability to access Manitoba’s three COVID-19 vaccination super sites.
We have yet to receive a response to this invitation, but remain optimistic about the prospect of working together on this pivotal aspect of the vaccination strategy.”
But that’s not what Chartrand wants. He wants an allocation of vaccine, and he would partner with pharmacies to deliver them to vulnerable Metis, likely much the same way the science has dictated priority groups so far.
“We’d pay them (pharmacies) to give the vaccines. We’d put up the resources to make sure it’s there. We know where our people live, we know their ages, we know their locations, we know the communities. We can quickly put an action team together and a plan _ overnight,” Chartrand said.
When asked about a possible “plan B” if the Province of Manitoba continues to exclude the federation from meaningful participation in the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out in the province, to ensure the most vulnerable Metis are adequately protected, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) stated the federal government places great importance on including Indigenous voices in the priority-setting for early vaccination.
“ISC is working collaboratively with all provinces and territories to encourage inclusion of Indigenous perspectives to ensure an integrated and coordinated approach to support the administration and planning process of the COVID-19 vaccine for Indigenous peoples,” stated a spokesperson by email.
“The logistics of a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out require coordination amongst partners and provinces and territories; an efficient and effective roll-out requires co-planning and is dependent on full collaboration.”
Michele LeTourneau is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brandon Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.