Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Canada’s northern territories have achieved much higher COVID-19 vaccination rates than its more populous provinces despite geographic challenges in a sign that prioritizing vaccine rollout in Indigenous and rural communities is paying off.

Two government policies helped drive this early success. A robust outreach to Indigenous communities sought to overcome mistrust arising from decades of ill treatment by the Canadian government. In addition, officials have shipped more doses per capita to the Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, home to many of Canada’s Indigenous people, than to other provinces.

Other measures also contributed, including a lottery held in a small town in Nunavut offering five cash awards of $2,000 for those who get vaccinated.

Story continues below advertisement

The three territories span almost 3.9 million square kilometres, or 40 per cent of Canada’s land mass. But the harsh terrain of the territories is home to just 125,000 people, the majority of whom are Indigenous, many living in fly-in communities best reached via air.

Despite this, almost 17 per cent of their populations have received at least the first dose of the two-dose vaccines, compared to the national figure of 2 per cent, according to government data. All three territories said they are on track to have at least 75 per cent of their adult populations vaccinated by April, compared to the September target the federal government has set for the rest of the country.

LONG OVERDUE

To combat vaccine hesitancy, Nunavut Health Minister Lorne Kusugak and the territory’s Chief Medical Officer have been calling in to local community radio stations to answer questions and calm fears in the days before a vaccine clinic’s arrival.

Mr. Kusugak said the way his government decided to overcome the hurdles is by going into communities.

“It could be a community of 100,000, I think this formula works anywhere,” Mr. Kusugak said.

Vaccinating the Indigenous communities is important to help keep COVID-19 deaths in Canada under check because the risk of an outbreak in the remote areas is seen as high.

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer, said the territories share common features – remote, small and largely Indigenous populations dispersed over large areas with limited health care availability. Dr. Hanley called it “gratifying” that the provincial and federal governments recognized these factors.

Story continues below advertisement

Vaccine hesitancy is a global problem but mistrust of authorities has deep roots among these Indigenous people, who represent 5 per cent of Canada’s population and have experienced centuries of mistreatment and genocide at the hands of the Canadian government.

In addition, Canada’s Indigenous people are more likely to experience homelessness or lack access to clean drinking water, making the physical distancing and handwashing recommended to fight the spread of COVID-19 difficult. Their life expectancy is 10 to 15 years less than non-Indigenous Canadians, and they have almost double the rate of asthma and triple the rate of diabetes.

Recognition of these facts is long overdue, according to Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national organization representing Canada’s Inuit population, whose ancestral home covers much of the country’s north.

“Part of why we need to be prioritized is because of our health status – and that is a legacy of colonialism and racism,” Mr. Obed said.

The government’s prioritization of Canada’s Indigenous population, Mr. Obed added, “shows that we are on a new path on reconciliation.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies