President's Message - March 3, 2021

March 3, 2021

COVID-19 and vaccines

COVID-19 continues to rob us all of many things we cherish - seeing our loved ones, gathering in communities and visiting friends in other parts of the province and the country. Yet we have proved - over and over again - how strong we are, keeping our vulnerable Citizens and Elders safe by maintaining social distance. I'm proud of each and every one of our Citizens who have worked hard to protect each other from exposure. I know we are all tired of the restrictions that prevent us from living our lives the way we want to. With the virus variants continuing to appear in our province, we have to stay safe and show how resilient we are as a Nation.

We have been trying to work with the Province since last spring, first with sharing data and then with a Métis-specific vaccine rollout strategy. While they have made commitments to work with us, all we hear is that they'll get back to us - over and over again, the same message. We know the importance of protecting our Elders and vulnerable Citizens from the risks of COVID-19, given our elevated risk of poorer health outcomes than the rest of the population. We know this because of our own study, called Profile of Métis Health Status and Health Care Utilization in Manitoba: A Population-Based Study (2010) and also because the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) says vaccine planning should include First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities.

This is a good example of why it's essential to have a distinctions-based approach. Métis Elders are 21 per cent more likely to die before the age of 75 compared to the rest of the population of Manitoba. Our Elders are precious to our Nation and we know how few make it past that age.

Data from the Metis Atlas also shows that we have 13 per cent higher rates of hypertension, 22 per cent higher rates of arthritis, 28 per cent higher rates of respiratory disease, 34 per cent higher rates of diabetes and 40 per cent higher rates of heart disease, compared to other Manitobans.

The province is now allowing for vaccination in the general population for people over the age of 90. For First Nations, the age is now 70. We applaud the hard work of the First Nations to get their Elders prioritized for vaccination, but we know our Citizens should also be included in this age range. Pallister's approach is not about data, or science, or medicine. It's about politics - politics that hurt the Métis people in Manitoba. The province's own health data on Indigenous communities shows that chronic illness takes our loved ones away.

Despite Manitoba being the birthplace of the Métis Nation, we are the only province in Western Canada without a Métis-specific vaccine rollout strategy. We are not sitting idle while we push for Manitoba to catch up with the other provinces in creating a distinctions-based approach for the Métis people. I have sent letters to all the major vaccine manufacturers across the globe, pleading our case and asking them to work directly with us to get vaccines for our people.

Rest assured, your Métis Government will not give up the fight to get your vaccines to you - even in the face of overt political misbehaviour by the provincial government. Federal Minister Dan Vandal has written to the Province - twice. Both times, he has pointed out the science and research that supports the need to prioritize vaccination for all Indigenous peoples - Métis Nation, First Nations, and Inuit.

We will explore every path available to us to support our Citizens through this pandemic. I will continue to update Citizens when more information comes forth.

In the meantime, if you live in the Winnipeg area and suspect you may have been exposed to COVID-19 and need to get tested, call our Health & Wellness department at 1-833-390-1041 to schedule an appointment at our COVID testing facility in Winnipeg.

Support for Citizens

Your Métis Government is doing everything we can to support you during this challenging economic time brought on by the pandemic. Remember that there are nets and subsidies available for licensed active fishers who fished last year and plan to fish this year. For more information, contact jenny.ruml@mmf.mb.ca, or phone 204-586-8474 or toll free, 1-800-665-8474.

We know that our ranchers and farmers are also facing challenges right now, even without the pandemic. Between the constantly increasing prices to lease Crown land and the changes to the leasing program, it is becoming harder and harder for these small business owners to stay afloat. The Province seems to forget that this country was made on the backs of small and medium-sized businesses like those owned by our ranchers and farmers.

I encourage any of our farmers or ranchers who are struggling to keep up or feed their families to reach out to your Métis Government to find out what kind of help is available to you. Let's work together to challenge this new leasing process. If you are being affected by the Crown Land leasing changes, call our offices - we will work together to create a province-wide plan to tackle this important work.

Of course, we'll never forget the importance of supporting our Youth. We have over 1,700 post-secondary students who have received scholarships and bursaries, along with additional funding to manage the financial hardships brought by the pandemic - this funding amounts to $1.4 million in emergency funding delivered to help students pay bills and buy food. We expect to be able to deliver more support soon. Thanks to Minister Ledoux for leading her team to support our Youth through their post-secondary studies.

Support for housing

I know that many of our Citizens are challenged with buying houses or the cost of keeping them up after they have bought them. The price of lumber is so high right now, it can be difficult to afford repairs and maintenance. Because of the rising cost of lumber and materials, the Affordable Housing Initiative is taking an approach of building steel-frame houses, which creates homes that have features to improve health and safety for homeowners - mould reduction is one example. I commend Minister Goodon and his team for the work they're doing in this area, and for the many programs and plans they've put into place to help Métis Citizens.

Your Métis Government offers a one-time forgivable loan of up to $15,000 for home repairs for homeowners. The loans can be used for upgrades for accessibility, emergency repairs, renovations, sewer, water and electrical infrastructure, and renovations to improve, adapt, and maintain existing housing stock.

Designed to assist low- to moderate-income Métis Citizens extend the lifespan of their home, the program also has funding available for larger projects. To date, we have assisted in the repair of 180 homes with support of more than $2.2 million.

For Citizens who need help buying their first home, we have a program that provides funding for down payments on the purchase of a home to a maximum of 5 per cent of the purchase price up to $15,000, plus purchase closing costs of 1.5 per cent of the purchase price up to a cap of $2,500. Today I am proud to say there are 419 homeowners who have received $7.2 million to help them buy homes and leave a legacy for their children to inherit.

While I'm proud of all our people who are buying their own homes, I know the market is challenging out there, with many buyers ending up in bidding wars or having large mortgages that are beyond their means. Our homebuyer's program is ongoing, so you have the choice to wait and buy a house when the market feels right to you. When you are ready, your Métis Government can connect you with a broker or realtor to help you navigate the home-buying process - call us toll free at 1-800-387-6004 or 204-589-0772 or by email at info@lrcc.mb.ca.

Growing as the economic engine of the West

One of the other benefits of all these programs and services is the number of jobs they create for Métis Citizens. I am hearing about how much of a difference this is making in our communities, and I'm grateful that so many of our contractors are taking their tools out of the shed to support these important activities.

We would not be able to offer these resources to our people without the continued partnership of Canada. I thank Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for honouring the promises he made to me even before he was Prime Minister, by focusing his government on developing a distinctions-based relationship with Métis Nation and following through on Canada's responsibility to us. This nation-to-nation relationship is so important to repairing the harms done to our people in the past and helping us secure long-term funding agreements. We will continue to work with Canada on these agreements and find new and better ways to support you.

I know we are starting to see the early signs of spring in many parts of Manitoba - the warming sun, the dampness in the air and the sound of birdsong - signaling the beginning of warmer weather. I know Harvesters are starting to watch the sky for the first geese and ducks returning to our province. With people getting outdoors and getting active on the land, I pray that you will be safe and socially distanced in your Harvesting plans. Sharing our bounty is an important and fundamental part of our tradition, so don't forget the Elders, families and single mothers in your community.

I offer my prayers to all of our Citizens, friends and neighbours, and my deepest condolences to those who have been caused to grieve.

On behalf of the Manitoba Metis Federation, I want to again express our thanks to Elder George Fleury, who recently passed and has now rejoined his wife and family in his new home. We will be announcing a new Provincial Elder soon.

Thank you, the Citizens of our Nation, who believe in your Métis Nation and your Métis Government. Stay safe, look after each other as much as you can from a distance, and be confident we will keep fighting for you.

 


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