Cal Arcand is encouraging Indigenous people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“There’s a lot of things that are a result of residential school trauma and things of our history, along with colonialism, that really put a skeptical notion on our people to take that vaccination,” he said.

His father, Eugene Arcand, spent 10 years in residential schools in Duck Lake and Lebret. Because of this, Arcand said he didn’t really learn about his Indigenous culture until he was 10 years old.

Jaris Swidrovich is a pharmacist and University of Saskatchewan professor. He and another professor at Ryerson University recently published a report on the roots of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among Canada’s Indigenous population.

Swidrovich said there’s “a lot of very good reasons” why Indigenous people may be more cautious to get the vaccine. This includes a history of tuberculosis experimentation, nutritional experimentation in residential schools and forced sterilization of Indigenous women.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal report includes another example from Manitoba in 2009 during the H1N1 pandemic, where the federal government sent body bags to four First Nations communities instead of antivirals, hand sanitizer and flu kits.

“At the end of the day, it’s still up to every individual. We do know that a certain proportion of the population at large would need to be vaccinated in order for something like herd immunity to take place,” explained Swidrovich, who’s from Yellow Quill First Nation.

“Having Indigenous folks, First Nations, Metis and Inuit at all of the tables and all of the promotional messaging tables would be really important to ensure that our worldview and our perspectives and understandings are shared.”

Arcand hosted a livestream event over the weekend by the Prince Albert Grand Council and Meadow Lake Tribal Council. In addition to showcasing Indigenous entertainers, the event included messages from chiefs and doctors encouraging vaccines.

Arcand said it was a good mix – lifting the spirits of Indigenous peoples with music and comedy, but also to encourage vaccines to hopefully return back to cultural gatherings.

He said his father Eugene was the first Indigenous citizen of the year in Prince Albert for his work towards reconciliation.

“Him and my mother really rallied the community here in Prince Albert at that time to work together in reconciliation before reconciliation was really happening,” he said.

“It taught me a lot about working with people and showing our cultural values towards one another as far as sharing and love and community and kinship. So we’re really trying to do that here with the COVID.”

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte was one of many leaders who shared messages of encouragement in the “All in this Together” virtual gathering.

“It’s been a long and difficult, challenging year,” said Hardlotte.

“Now that we have vaccines that are effective, safe and also approved by the governments, by Health Canada, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s not hesitate on getting the vaccine.”