Interior Health nurses were administering COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aides in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. In Salmon Arm on March 11, guests, staff and support personnel at the Salvation Army's Lighthouse Shelter at McGuire Lake were vaccinated. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)

No link between colonialism and vaccine hesitancy among Indigenous people: expert

166,000 doses of COVID-18 vaccines administered in 538 First Nations, says Indigenous Services Canada

There is no evidence that Canada’s history of colonialism has made Indigenous people any more hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19 than the general population, says an Indigenous studies professor casting a critical eye on the oft-repeated theory.

The federal government is among those who have suggested colonialism and systemic racism have fostered mistrust in vaccines. But Veldon Coburn, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Indigenous Research and Studies, says available data on vaccine hesitancy suggest that is not the case.

“The historic events that were bad and unethical … didn’t have the same or the effect that’s being claimed and maybe it’s just naive good intentions but it doesn’t stand up,” Coburn said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Coburn says there’s no evidence of a causal link between vaccine hesitancy and the historical and intergenerational trauma Indigenous people feel live with because of residential schools and other colonialist practices.

Nutrition experiments that were performed on Indigenous children at several Ontario residential schools in the mid-1940s are unlikely to have any effect on Indigenous people who are alive now, said Coburn. He is a member of the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, located about 150 kilometres west of Ottawa.

“I’m Indigenous,” he said. “My grandparents went to Indian residential school. None of this was sort of transmitted.”

Coburn noted newborns in Indigenous communities get vaccinated routinely.

“We get needles all the time,” he said. “It is not a traumatic experience.”

But while acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines is surprisingly high in some Indigenous communities, Dr. Evan Adams, deputy chief medical officer at Indigenous Services Canada, said there is some hesitation in other places.

“We’re hearing a number of issues. Some as mundane as ‘I felt a little tired after the first vaccine’ … to experimentations happening on them or there are some really unsavoury products within the vaccine,” he told a virtual news conference Wednesday.

Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, said some Inuit might be hesitant because of their historic mistreatment by the government.

“Even in the present day, systemic racism that Inuit experience in the health-care system — that might be the reason,” she said.

Indigenous Services Canada said the long-standing history of colonization and systemic racism in Canada has created a mistrust in the health-care system among Indigenous communities, including a mistrust of vaccines.

“We are working with all partners to increase cultural safety and respect for Indigenous Peoples when planning for the COVID-19 vaccine and addressing hesitancy around the vaccine,” said Adrienne Vaupshas, spokesperson for Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller.

Vaupshas said the department has developed culturally appropriate messaging to raise awareness of the vaccine and promote uptake, including the translation of documents to Indigenous languages, social media posts and broadcast scripts.

Yet the available data suggest that vaccine hesitancy is not more pronounced in Indigenous communities than non-Indigenous communities.

In 2010, Health Canada surveyed First Nations on reserve and Inuit after the H1N1 pandemic and found that about 97 per cent of reserve residents and nearly 94 per cent of Inuit said childhood vaccinations were important.

“If there were any effects from residential schools, it would’ve showed up in 2010 during the same conditions. There was none,” said Coburn, who also recently shared his views in an article published by The Conversation and distributed by The Canadian Press.

Coburn said there isn’t much of a difference in vaccination acceptance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people when it comes to getting flu shots.

The 2017-18 Canadian Community Health Survey showed that 55 per cent of Indigenous people had a seasonal flu vaccine compared to 59 per cent of non-Indigenous people, he said.

He said the World Health Organization, through its strategic advisory group of experts on immunization, vaccine hesitancy and acceptance after H1N1, has noted that vaccination is a very complex decision that people make individually and not at the population level.

Coburn said there’s a “cultural zeitgeist” at the moment that’s made many people think Indigenous people are “very delicate” and need others to care for them.

“It’s sort of a self-flagellation from certain segments of the population: … We’ve got to be very gentle with (Indigenous Peoples) because very bad things happen to them in the past and it’s going to hinder our pandemic response,” he said.

“They sort of invented an injury that didn’t exist, and they want to be the crutch.”

An online survey by Angus Reid in British Columbia earlier this month suggested Indigenous people are more willing to get the vaccine than the general population.

Sixty-eight per cent of respondents who self-identified as Indigenous said they would get the COVID-19 vaccine when available and 16 per cent said they would wait awhile at first but would eventually get the shot.

That was slightly higher than the survey results among the general population, in which 66 per cent of the respondents said they will get a COVID-19 vaccine when available and 17 per cent said they would eventually get it.

More than 166,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in 538 First Nations, northern and Inuit communities as of March 12, according to Indigenous Services Canada.

“This represents 54 doses administered per 100 adults in First Nations and Inuit communities in provinces, and adult residents in the territories,” Vaupshas said.

Coburn said the majority of Indigenous people want to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“My friends and family, even on my reserve, they can’t wait to get that needle, and they’re like, ‘Bring it right now, I’ll inject myself,’” he said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sunshine Valley’s Ashley Pater appears in her new music video “Stuck on You.” Pater has been hard at work creating new music and participating in virtual events and tours. (Screenshot/Ashley Pater)
Sunshine Valley’s Ashley Pater releases new single

‘Stuck on You’ has been viewed more than 20,000 times

Nick Warmerdam and his dog Diesel are inviting locals to check out the Lakeland Farm U-pick Flower Farm this spring. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
VIDEO & SLIDESHOW: Abbotsford’s Lakeland Flowers opens for spring

Tulip farm attraction opened on April 14, open to the public daily seven days a week

A man holds a child while speaking with RCMP following an erratic driving incident on Highway 1 in Chilliwack on Friday, April 16, 2021. The child and a woman (but not this man) were in this Jeep Grand Cherokee which hit a barrier and a parked car on Highway 1 and continued driving. The vehicle finally exited the highway at Yale Road West and came to a stop. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Video captures woman driving erratically with child after hitting barrier, car on Hwy 1 in Chilliwack

Smoke seen coming from SUV as it continues to travel eastbound of shoulder of highway

An undated picture of the Hope Station House. (Photo/Save The Hope Station House)
Hope council must consider all options for Station House: B.C. Ombudsperson

Investigation ‘revealed flaws in District’s process,’ statement said

(Metro Creative)
Hope residents invited to join in Earth Day clean-up event

From dead batteries to flat tires, volunteers ready to sort and recycle

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

An Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island (XRVI) climate change event in 2019 saw a large crowd occupy the Johnson Street bridge. Black Press File Photo
‘In grief for our dying world’: B.C. climate activists embark on 4-day protest

Demonstrators will walk through Vancouver for the first two days before boarding a ferry Sunday morning

Most Read