By Peter Moon
PEAWANUCK First Nation – Canadian Rangers provided support for a medical team that flew last week into Peawanuck, a remote Cree First Nation near the Hudson Bay Coast, to give the first COVID-19 vaccinations to a community in Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) in the Far North of Ontario.
The Federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair, announced on January 24 that the federal government had approved a request from the Ontario government for members of the Canadian Rangers to support the vaccination program for remote First Nations in NAN.
The vaccines were flown to Peawanuck by Ornge, Ontario’s provider of air ambulance and critical care transport services, which is working closely with NAN on the vaccination program. Ornge is providing air transportation and the medical personnel to do vaccinations in up to 32 remote First Nations within Nishnawbe Aski Nation.
“Peawanuck was a practice run for Ornge, who we will be assisting,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Shane McArthur, who commands the Rangers of Northern Ontario. “It was a learning experience for the Rangers. Their co-ordination with Ornge and the community worked extremely well.”
The Ornge team in Peawanuck consisted of a nurse and five paramedics.
The Rangers, who are part-time Army reservists and members of the Peawanuck Ranger patrol, transported the Ornge medical team and the vaccines from the airport to the community hall, where the Rangers had helped to set up the vaccination site.
The Rangers transported elders to the site and provided language and cultural assistance to the medical team. They also transported members of the medical team to the residences of elders who were housebound and unable to get to the community hall. The elders were inoculated in their homes.
The 32 remote First Nations have been identified by Ontario as a priority group for vaccination against COVID-19. At the request of the Chiefs of the respective First Nations, the Canadian Armed Forces have been authorized to deploy Rangers to assist with the vaccination program. The Rangers will not be vaccinators themselves, but will assist with preparations and conduct of the vaccination program when requested by the community, in areas that may include:
- general logistics support such as transportation of personnel, community members and materials;
- local coordination including translation, integration of mobile teams and distribution of information and educational materials; and
- administrative support including conducting COVID pre-screening questionnaires, reception, and other general support to planning and operations.
Sergeant Matthew Gull, who commands the Peawanuck Ranger patrol, was among those who received the vaccine.
“I was talking to the paramedic who was going to give me the shot,” he said, “and I was kind of surprised when he said I was all done. He’d given me the shot while we were talking and I didn’t feel a thing.”
Ornge is scheduled to fly a vaccination team into Peawanuck again on February 22 to administer second doses of the Moderna vaccine used in this vaccination program.
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)