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CAAN’s Position Statement on COVID-19

Hishuk ish tsawalk. This is a Nuu-chah-nulth worldview that means Everything is One. We are all One. SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) has reminded us that we are interconnected. The well-being of One is the well-being of all of us.

How has COVID-19 affected Indigenous People?

As we have seen, measures to control the spread of COVID-19 – as well as measures not taken to control the spread of COVID-19 – have disproportionately affected racialized communities (1). We know the importance of addressing the social determinants of health: When people have stable housing, income, and food, their risk for COVID-19 is lower. We know that when people feel safe accessing health care, they benefit from services that can prevent and treat COVID-19. When people have access to Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Doing – including culture and land – they have access to powerful medicines.

There are now several effective COVID-19 vaccines available – for free – to everyone in Canada. In the current climate of widespread misinformation, context-specific education and awareness is more important than ever. Some of our Elders and Old People who attended residential school still carry the memory of unethical medical experimentation (2). In the health care system of the present day, Indigenous People often face systemic racism and discrimination (3). These memories and experiences create distrust and may discourage people from accessing life-saving services. We certainly see this with HIV and Hepatitis C. To counter this, “Public health messaging about the risks of SARS-CoV-2 infection and the benefits of receiving the vaccine must clearly be positioned in a way that speaks to Indigenous Peoples’ historical and contemporary experiences with Canadian settler colonialism” (4).

How do we move forward?

CAAN is working with the Dr. Peter Centre to investigate and apply harm reduction-focused lessons in the context of COVID-19, and we are supporting studies that will track how COVID-19 vaccines are working for people living with HIV.Shifting to virtual engagement, we are identifying new approaches to reach out to membership, hold space for dialogue, and meaningfully connect with each other across the land.

COVID-19 has brought many challenges, but it has also given us many teachings. We are seeing unprecedented collaboration between leaders, policymakers, businesses, clinicians, health and social service organizations, schools, grassroots initiatives, and many others. This virus has shown us that governments can act quickly to mobilize resources when faced with a public health crisis. We are seeing people work together effectively at national, regional, and local levels to create solutions. We are bearing witness to widespread change.

As the pandemic continues to unfold and we hope for an end to lockdowns and restrictions, we know that going back to normal is not desirable because ‘normal’ was not a universal experience. Instead, we continue the work of caring for our kin and supporting timely, evidence-based action. We are all in this together. Hishuk ish tsawalk.


  1. Public Health Agency of Canada (2020). From risk to resilience: An equity approach to COVID-19. [Report].
  2. Macdonald, N. E., Stanwick, R., & Lynk, A. (2014). Canada’s shameful history of nutrition research on residential school children: The need for strong medical ethics in Aboriginal health research. Paediatrics & Child health, 19(2), 64.
  3. Indigenous Health Working Group of the College of Family Physicians of Canada and Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada (2016). Health and Health Care Implications of Systemic Racism on Indigenous Peoples in Canada [Fact sheet].
  4. Mosby, I., & Swidrovich, J. (2021). Medical experimentation and the roots of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among Indigenous Peoples in Canada. CMAJ, 193 (11) E381-E383.