Sol Mamakwa responds after Doug Ford accuses him of ‘jumping the line’ to get COVID vaccine
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa, who was accused last Thursday by Premier Doug Ford of “jumping the line” to get the COVID-19 vaccine, said Ford called him the next day to apologize for attacking him personally.
However, Mamakwa said, “There’re a lot of leaders that took the vaccine to increase the uptake, and me, as a Indigenous person, a First Nations person, for him to personally attack me, is an attack on Indigenous people, and he needs to publicly apologize for that.” He added, “We need to start looking at urban-Indigenous vaccination strategy. A plan, on how we can move forward.”
Mamakwa shared that he received the call just before 3 p.m. last Friday. He added that the call lasted for about a minute, minute and a half. The Premier’s office confirmed the apology. Mamakwa said that he replied to the apology with appreciating Ford’s consideration to call. “I appreciated him personally phoning me to say that. But, I didn’t say, I accept your apology,” he added.
Premier Doug Ford commented during Question Period, “That was one of our highest priorities to go into the 31 fly-in communities and not only did Ornge fly-in, but the member (Sol Mamakwa) flew in too, to get his vaccine. So, thank you for doing that and kinda jumping the line…”
“I was floored by it. It took me about, maybe half hour, to figure out how disrespectful it was, how uncalled-for it was,” Mamakwa shared with The Bulletin. He publicly shared the same day of Ford’s accusation that he was invited by Muskrat Dam First Nation Chief Gordon Beardy to receive his first dose of the vaccine in February. “I was invited by the Chief of Muskrat Dam and the Chief of Sandy Lake First Nation to take the vaccine, to help with the vaccine uptake. So, I was encouraged to set an example for the community, by their local public health authority, the First Nations health authority to deal with the serious issue of vaccine hesitancy in First Nation communities.” Mamakwa was invited by community Elders to get his second vaccine dose in Sandy Lake First Nation.
Mamakwa said, “What it meant to me was when he says I skipped the line, you know, that’s Doug Ford, that’s the government saying that First Nations, Indigenous people are cheaters, cheating the system, and he is not the first to say that, he is certainly not the last. It doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t make it true.” Ford accused Mamakwa of queue jumping for vaccine, in a community where he doesn’t reside. To which Mamakwa responded, “I think even those two things say a lot on how the system is, and whereby they are trying to separate me, as if I’m not a part of the community, and that’s where I kind of framed those things as racism, oppression and colonialism.”
Muskrat Dam First Nation Chief Gordon Beardy shared, “We had asked Mamakwa to come and join us because there was a lot of misinformation regarding the vaccine and people were hesitating. The Chief and Council here told the community that we would take it, and also, we thought it would be good for our MPP to be present, if he was available, and we had drafted him a letter and he replied that he would come.”
Beardy said that Mamakwa’s presence helped the community to understand the importance and seriousness of getting the vaccine. “To me, that’s a good sign, that all leaders should do a real leadership by taking it in front of their members or in front of the people of Canada, that they represent, I think that is critical,” Beardy said. “When people were told that your leaders, your elders took it, they said, okay, I’m taking it,” he added.
Beardy shared his disappointment following Ford’s comment. “I’m hoping it doesn’t discourage our First Nation people from taking the vaccine. I’m very disappointed by him making a comment like that.”
Mamakwa shared that Ford invited him to meet with him in his office, to which, Mamakwa shared in a press conference, “I would rather see him in a fly-in community in northern Ontario where there is housing crisis, where there is a water crisis, where there is infrastructure crisis, where there is a mental health crisis.” He added, “It’s not just simply just going to his office and having a cup of tea.”
Mamakwa said, “I would want to see some action,” He added, “Actions speak louder than words and we need to be able to see those urban Indigenous-led vaccine clinics in Toronto and Thunder Bay. They’re in a crisis right now and we need to able to address those.”
Ford also stated in his comment, “I talked to a few chiefs that were pretty upset about that, for flying into a community that he doesn’t belong.”
“I never heard any Chiefs talk about that. I’ve had nothing but support from calls or, support from the community,” said Mamakwa.
Mamakwa added that, “Soon after the question period, she (Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott) said, you know what, you just wait your turn, and that’s her say that I shouldn’t have done that. They were doubling down! Which means they are trying to get me to, you know, even though in their criteria, I fit as an Indigenous person, because it says all Indigenous people in Ontario, that’s their criteria. And to try to control that, that’s part of the oppression, part of the colonialism that exists there. But just imagine if a First Nation community pressed the government and the bureaucracy and the Ministers, if they are trying to get access to clean drinking water and they press them the same way, that’s the same way that they would respond. And what was displayed there is exactly what Indigenous people feel…within the systems of access to healthcare, other services.”
Mamakwa shared that this has an impact on what Indigenous people feel about the governments working with them. “Because again, we face it every day, we face the colonialism, we face the racism, we normalize the oppression and normalizing it is part of our being able to go on.”
Mamakwa shared with the media on Sunday morning that the Premier had a chance that morning to undo the damage he did to the vaccine rollout for Indigenous people. “He had a chance to use his platform and say, all Indigenous adults qualify, no matter where you live, and getting your shot is a good thing, not a bad thing. But he didn’t do that. The Premier’s excuse for lying about Indigenous people not qualifying for the vaccine is that it’s just politics,” said Mamakwa.
Mamakwa said that Premier Ford is actually expressing old colonial sentiments about Indigenous people. He added, “For generations our people have been hurt by politicians, who put politics ahead of our lives. This is why we continued to be denied clean drinking water, or safe, decent housing. I’m still committed to making sure all Indigenous people get vaccinated.”
Mamakwa said that when Ford initially made that comment, he did not react. Mamakwa added, “But if I’d react to it, you know what, I probably would have said, that’s racism right there… and I probably would have been kicked out if I had reacted that way.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath wrote a letter to Premier Ford addressing his comments about Mamakwa’s participation in the vaccine campaign to help combat vaccine hesitancy in First Nations communities. In part, the letter read, “Your decision to attack Sol Mamakwa (MPP for Kiiwetinoong) for being vaccinated amounts to a reckless, and dangerous undermining of multiple interlocking efforts by First Nations, local governments, Ontario, public health authorities, and the Government of Canada to ensure that all Indigenous adults, both on and off-reserve receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Mamakwa had been very transparent with his intentions and actions from the beginning, sharing it publicly. He also shared in a February 1 post on his Facebook page, “I want to show people that the shot is safe and I trust in the science. With the vaccine, we will be protecting ourselves, our languages and our traditions for future generations.”
Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner expressed an emotional response in the legislature regarding the situation. “I just can’t believe after a year of this pandemic, and all that people in this province have been though, for the Premier to accuse one of the most respected members of legislature of queue jumping. When he was just doing his job and showing leadership. I think it’s completely inappropriate and I think the Premier needs to apologize, and I’m really sorry, I didn’t think I would get emotional. But I’ve been feeling numb ever since that moment happened.”