The long road to vaccination is complete for Charlene Hallett’s children.
The mother of three has already gotten the jab herself.
Monday morning, she joined her children and her niece as they were vaccinated at the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre, surrounded by the sounds of singing, drumming and praying. The atmosphere brought comfort to Hallett as a Métis woman.
"Just the whole energy in being in that space, with the staff, and the feeling of how well it was running, and how welcoming it was, and the signs in different languages, and the music — Indigenous music — to hear that, it’s a very welcoming space," she said.
The centre began vaccinations for Manitobans 12 years old and older on Monday morning, following the province’s Friday announcement that youth were now eligible to receive their first dose. A line of parents and children with appointments, or seeking a walk-up vaccine at the centre, had already formed early Monday. The clinic is currently only accepting appointments and walk-ins from Indigenous Manitobans.
Dr. Barry Lavallee, CEO of Indigenous-led health task force Keewatinowi Inniniw Minoayawin, administered the first vaccines of the morning and called it a "profound" day.
"This is a really important time for all of us to come together, Indigenous, non-Indigenous people, to make sure that we can get all Manitobans vaccinated," Lavallee said. "And specifically people who are ending up sick in the hospital, and that’s predominantly First Nations people from urban, remote and urban areas."
Lavallee said collaboration with the provincial and federal government is unlike anything he's seen in his decades-long career and hoped more Indigenous youth will join others in getting vaccinated.
Hallett, who is studying community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, was critical of the province’s vaccine rollout.
She credited the creation of the inviting space at the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre to the community around the Higgins Avenue clinic — not the provincial government.
"When you say Manitoba, I’m thinking of the provincial conservatives, and I don’t see that they’ve done enough at all."
Embedding Indigenous cultural practices into health care helps combat vaccine hesitancy within a community over-represented in Manitoba’s COVID-19 case count, Hallett said, and could be a blueprint for future public health initiatives.
"Specifically for Indigenous people, I think more and more people are starting to come to understand the serious harms that have been done, and specifically through research in medical realms on Indigenous people... there hasn’t always been a safe feeling," she said.
"By having different languages, by having songs, by having different staff come out, it really sets the tone for a welcoming space. That might be enough to get someone in the door."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.