The Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) has passed a policy that requires its citizens, employees, visitors, contractors and elected officials to be vaccinated against the coronavirus if they want to take part in any federation business.
The policy, which has been in the works for one year, received unanimous approval from the MMF cabinet on Aug. 24, says Frances Chartrand, the federation’s minister for health. She noted that all cabinet members had been double-vaccinated.
“I think our Métis citizens want to be safe and our elders have been saying to make sure that everyone gets vaccinated. That’s where we get our direction from. As elected cabinet we speak for all our citizens across the province,” she said.
With Canada now in the fourth wave of COVID-19, Chartrand says concerns are focused on both the elders and the youth, who will be returning to school.
“As a Métis government … the safety of our citizens, children, families and especially our elders, who are the keepers of our language and our culture and our heritage, we want to make sure they’re safe,” she said.
Chartrand acknowledges the lives lost during the first waves of COVID, with elders isolated and dying alone.
“We want to make sure we keep everybody safe so we can prevent any of that from happening again,” she said.
Chartrand estimates that about 90 to 95 per cent of MMF’s approximately 1,000 staff are already vaccinated.
The human resources department, she says, will work with those who are not. Education, counselling and medical advice will be provided. If a staff member still chooses to remain unvaccinated, a decision will be made on a “case-by-case” basis. While termination is an option, it’s not one the MMF will jump to.
“We value our staff. They’re the most important part of our government. They’re the ones that get programs and services and information to our citizens, so we’ll make sure we can accommodate them, if we can help them in any way,” said Chartrand.
She adds that accommodations will also be made for those who aren’t medically able to get vaccinated.
Staff is still able to work from home, a measure put in place when COVID-19 first hit. About 65 to 70 per cent of staff took that option.
For staff deemed essential and who must be in the building, in addition to the requirement to be vaccinated, other protocols such as social distancing, mask-wearing and the use of hand sanitizer will be maintained. Protocols have also been established for physical distancing, mail delivery and individuals entering the building.
As for Métis citizens, Chartrand says it’s hard to know how many of the 100,000 in the province (those 12 years and older) have been vaccinated.
“Because we don’t have a working relationship with the provincial government, (and) that’s not from a lack of trying … we don’t have sharing data agreements with the province of Manitoba unlike First Nations.
“We don’t have that partnership and we’re working with the federal government right now” to get numbers, she said.
The MMF-owned MEDOCare Pharmacy was used to provide vaccinations to Métis but was not given priority to receive doses despite a recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization that Manitoba include the Métis as part of the Indigenous priority vaccine rollout. Instead MEDOCare was provided shipments the same as every other pharmacy in the province. Métis-specific clinics have only been held in Winnipeg and 3,000 shots have been delivered, with priority given to elders.
Chartrand says they were also grateful to be offered Moderna vaccine doses by Chief Dennis Meeches of the Long Plain First Nation. One hundred Métis elders were transported there to receive their vaccines.
“We have Métis clinics right now in Winnipeg and we’re trying to venture out and go right across the province. However, we have to work through our pharmacy because the vaccinations are limited and we’re just part of the pharmacy distribution, so we have to ask them every week,” she said.
The MMF is encouraging citizens to get their vaccine wherever they can.
As the MMF work policy was just passed, Chartrand says she is unaware of any feedback from citizens. However, she says she is confident no one will respond negatively to the new measures.
She notes a virtual summit in mid-September of 300 citizens to discuss programming and the annual general meeting in October will allow for feedback on the policy.
As for the AGM, scheduled for Oct. 22-24, it usually sees 3,000 people attend in person, but attendance will be scaled back, says Chartrand. Those not vaccinated will be able to attend via Zoom.
The vaccination policy will be posted at all MMF buildings across the province and people will be screened by security.
The MMF is not alone in its actions.
The Manitoba government has said most provincial health-care employees, teachers and child-care workers are required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31. Manitoba has also reinstated its mask requirement for indoor public spaces.
The federal government led the way earlier this month when it announced all federal public employees would have to be vaccinated.