A few weeks ago, I got my first COVID-19 vaccine.
My family and I are Indigenous, meaning we were part of the first phase of vaccine rollout in Ontario. Our vaccines were administered at Auduzhe Mino Nesewinong (“Place of Healthy Breathing”), an Indigenous-led COVID-19 assessment and vaccination clinic.
After getting sticked, I posted an Instagram story saying I had been vaccinated. Most people were excited for me. But the excitement was quickly dimmed when I received a few unhappy messages.
“How is this fair?” “You snuck through the cracks.” “Somebody more deserving should have the vaccine.” “You’re hardly even Indigenous.”
I want to preface everything I’m about to write about by saying I have not had near the same experience as most Indigenous people. I am financially comfortable, grew up in an extremely safe neighbourhood, and am “white-passing”. The majority of the Indigenous community is not as fortunate as I am and face the direct consequences of stereotyping and aggressions everyday.
But the first time I remember experiencing any form of this stereotyping was in grade nine. I was telling a teacher that I would be missing school to visit a reserve in northern Quebec (where our family is). In response, they looked at me seriously. “Be careful,” they said cautiously. “It’s not safe there. They’re dangerous.” When I told the teacher it was my family we were visiting, and that my family was Indigenous, I received an awkward laugh and told to go back to my desk.
From there on, it was years of little jokes that I thought nothing of at the time. Boys I liked calling me Pochahontas when it came up (which, p.s., please never do that), horribly mocked Indigenous “battle cries”, and comments that I wasn’t Indigenous “enough” for my status to even count – which is a form of erasure, by the way. You would never ask someone who says they’re British to say exactly how British they are, and invalidate their claim if you didn’t deem it to be a large enough part of their background. But I digress.
The horrifying mistreatment of Indigenous people in Canada is an epidemic, and it is happening coast to coast. In the last year, an Indigenous chief in Fort McMurray, Alberta, was beaten by police over an expired license plate sticker. All charges were dropped. In Nova Scotia, Mi’kmaw fishermen were attacked over fishing rights. Their vans and boats were set ablaze and hundreds of lobster traps owned by Indigenous fishermen destroyed. The police did little to protect them.
Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to go missing or be killed than any other group in Canada. A third of the prison population in Canada is made up of Indigenous people, despite only being 5% of the Canadian population. At any given time, 73% of First Nation water systems in Canada are at medium to high risk of contamination, and 61 reserves in Canada are still under a water-boil advisory, despite Justin Trudeau’s promise to ensure all reserves had clean drinking water by November 2021. Residential schools weren’t completely closed until 1996. Some of the survivors of these schools could be people in their 40s today.
“But Katie,” you sigh, “this is all terrible, but what can I do?”
And the answer shouldn’t be a surprise. You know the answer.
Nobody is saying that you’re responsible for the actions of your grandparents or the societal situations created today. But you are responsible for making tomorrow better.
Support a small Indigenous business. Educate yourself on issues Indigenous people in Canada face everyday. Share resources or sign a petition. Don’t message people who got the COVID-19 vaccine assuming they cheated their way through because they don’t look Indigenous enough to you.
These are small steps – and to be blunt, some are easy. But they make a huge difference. And as cliche as it sounds, change starts with a single step.
If you want resources to help you learn more, check out any of these amazing organizations below:
- Indigenous Services Canada helps to give Indigenous people a better idea of resources available to them, from housing support to community economic development programs
- The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund aims to improve the lives of Indigenous people by building awareness, education, and connections between all Canadians
- I Love First Peoples is an organization that empowers Indigenous children and youth to succeed through education and the motivation to stay in school. They also raise awareness about reconciliation across Canada
- Indigenous Awareness Canada offers training and workshops that assist Canadians in learning about Indigenous people and the steps towards reconciliation. They offer training for workplaces on the topic that includes certifications
- Indspire raises funds to help Indigenous youth in Canada complete their post-secondary education to help set them up for a successful future