OTTAWA — Manitoba’s northern chiefs are calling on Ottawa to add an Indigenous representative to the national committee that advises provinces about vaccines.
"Decisions that affect Indigenous people should have the involvement of Indigenous people," Grand Chief Garrison Settee, who represents northern Manitoba chiefs, told reporters Thursday.
"Throughout our history and experience with government entities, many decisions, if not all decisions, were made with the exclusion of Indigenous expertise in that conversation."
A month ago, Settee wrote to Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, urging her to ensure Indigenous people get appointed to the national advisory committee on immunization.
The committee has scientists and medical experts who create eligibility criteria for COVID-19 and other vaccines, as well as guidance about their use, such as how long patients can safely wait for booster shots.
Online biographies for all 15 members of the committee make no reference to any of them being Indigenous.
The northern chiefs say Tam explained that groups can apply to have non-voting observers. Settee sent a response this week.
"The current structure does not appear to guarantee a specific and permanent First Nations health expert appointment that could provide the intimate knowledge of the challenges, strengths, disparities, and barriers faced by northern First Nations in Manitoba," Settee wrote.
"We want to be true partners."
He argued the head of his group's health branch, Dr. Barry Lavallee, could speak to the realities of northern and urban Indigenous people.
Settee told reporters he is pleased Manitoba has collaborated with First Nations on its COVID-19 immunization rollout.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said it could not provide a response to the chiefs' demands Thursday.