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Wood Buffalo's Métis leaders fear some elders are left out of early vaccination efforts

Lack of steady health-care services, crowded housing and a high number of elders has made First Nations and Métis settlements a priority for vaccination efforts.

Some Métis leaders in Wood Buffalo fear they have been left out of Alberta's vaccination plans because none of them have been incorporated as Métis settlements.

Phase 1B of Alberta's COVID-19 vaccination plan includes elders over the age of 65 on First Nations and Métis settlements. All Albertans over the age of 75 are included in this plan.

The municipal hamlets of Conklin, Fort McKay and Janvier are mostly Métis. But, community leaders say elders between 65 and 74 in those communities have been left out of the plan.

"We really don't know much yet," said Shirley Tremblay, president of Conklin Métis Local 193. The community's health-care is limited to two nurses that visit Conklin twice a month, but they have not been able to provide any updates on vaccines.

Alberta Health's local breakdown of COVID-19 cases treats Wood Buffalo's rural areas as a whole rather than by hamlet.

Community leaders say Janvier and the adjacent Chipewyan Prairie First Nation had at least 40 COVID-19 cases this past summer, while Conklin had between 20 and 25.

Lack of steady health-care services, crowded housing and a high number of elders has made First Nations and Métis settlements a priority for vaccination efforts.

McMurray Métis has 45 elders between 65 and 74 that will be left out of Phase 1B because the Local is based in Fort McMurray. Bryan Fayant, McMurray Métis' disaster and recovery strategist, said those elders will be vaccinated with the general public. This is not expected to happen until Fall.

“In Alberta, it is recognized that Indigenous elders are part of a first priority,” said Fayant. “Our elders are a part of the regular rollout and I just don’t think that’s enough.”

In an email, Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said limited supply is straining the government's vaccination rollout.

“As more vaccines arrive, we’ll expand our approach,” he said. “Our goal is to immunize Albertans as safely and effectively as possible.”

Ron Quintal, president of Fort McKay Métis Nation, said most information he knows about the vaccination plan comes from the Fort McKay First Nation's leadership.

Métis health-care workers and elders at Fort McKay's Riverside Continuing Care Centre have been included in vaccinations. But, Quintal said the Métis community itself has "fallen below the radar."

“Because of the connection that we have with the First Nation here in the community, we have access to information we wouldn’t usually get,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of information flowing directly from the government to the Métis community.”

The only community exempt from these frustrations is Fort Chipewyan. Just like Wood Buffalo's southern hamlets, the municipal areas of Fort Chipewyan are mostly Métis.

Because of the community's isolation, Kendrick Cardinal, president of Fort Chipewyan Métis Local 125, said a community-wide COVID-19 strategy is being drafted. Twenty health-care workers and elders have already been vaccinated.

“This might not have been the same if we weren’t in such an isolated area,” said Cardinal.

The Nunee Health Authority is releasing the plan on Feb. 1, but details could change depending on how quickly Alberta can get more vaccines.

“We’re just moving as the days go by at this point,” said Friday Block-Lanas, assistant director of the Nunee Health Authority. “Everything is in a limbo right now.”

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