Groups promote Indigenous health through pow wow COVID-19 mass vaccine clinic in Toronto

Organizations that promote Indigenous health are holding a pow wow COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic in Toronto on Saturday in the hopes of creating a culturally safe space for First Nations, Inuit and Metis people to get vaccinated.

The clinic, which includes Indigenous dancing, singing, drumming and a teepee, is being held at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Stadium. It runs until 4 p.m. The clinic is offering Pfizer-BioNTech shots and it has 400 appointments.

Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, a research institute at the U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, and Auduzhe Mino Nesewinong, an Indigenous COVID-19 testing site, organized the clinic.

Steve Teekens, executive director of Na-Me-Res, Native Men’s Residence, said the event is being held on Saturday because the date is close to National Indigenous Peoples Day, which is June 21. The University of Toronto offered the venue, its staff members and facilities and helped with logistics, he said.

Teekens said the idea behind the vaccination clinic was to create a culturally safe place for Indigenous people, aged 12 and older, their family members and close contacts to get a first or second dose of Pfizer. There is dancing, singing and drumming on the grounds of Varsity Stadium to showcase Indigenous cultures in Canada, he said.

“We reached out to various Indigenous pow wow dancers, some Inuit performers and a Metis performer to give people a flavour of various Indigenous cultures across Canada from coast to coast to coast,” he said.

Teekens said the mass vaccination clinic is using a “for Indigenous by Indigenous” approach to make people feel comfortable and to lower barriers to COVID-19 vaccines.

“Cultural safety means creating a place where people of various cultures feel they belong, where they feel safe to to go to seek treatment or services,” he added.

“Often systematic racism and discrimination are very much factors within many of our mainstream health-care systems. We need to work really hard to change those things.”

Teekens said unhoused Indigenous people in Toronto may face additional barriers to getting vaccinated.

“It’s common for homeless indigenous people not to get the best quality services when they seek out health services so we thought if we do a ‘for Indigenous, by Indigenous approach’ with Indigenous physicians, Indigenous nurses, Indigenous staff to support it, we’ll make every effort to make sure that people feel culturally safe coming into our services,” he said.

“They’ll see people that may look like them, that might even come from their First Nation communities.”

Mayor John Tory, who spoke at the opening of the clinic, said there are thousands of Indigenous people in Toronto and vaccine clinics organized by individual community-based organizations are helping the city to get people vaccinated.

“Some of the communities across different communities have a little bit more trouble either being comfortable with getting vaccinated, or with having access to the places to get vaccinated,” Tory said.

“By putting on these clinics, we can make sure that our Indigenous communities, which at the present time are maybe only half vaccinated, can get vaccinated and provide them with a degree of protection against COVID-19 and the variants that many other people have.”

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