A steady stream of people received their COVID-19 vaccinations on Monday in Niagara-on-the-Lake during a clinic at the Niagara Regional Native Centre.
The clinic was a partnership between Niagara Region public health and the native centre, as part of the region's aim to make Indigenous people a priority for vaccinations.
Karl Dockstader, executive director of the native centre, said about 500 people received vaccines during the clinic.
It was a bit of a whirlwind putting it all together, with the centre doing its own bookings and having to change gears to essentially be a call centre for a week, he said.
"We've only been planning for about three weeks and we've only been collecting names really for the past week, and this is so far from what we do. So this has coming together really quick for us," he said in an interview during the clinic.
Unlike the province's vaccine rollout for non-Indigenous people, the clinic saw people of various age groups receiving their shots.
Dockstader said the "priority" was people 55 and older, but that all Indigenous adults are eligible under the province's rollout plan.
"We organized it, and that was messy. Did we strictly get every indigenous person that's 55-plus only on our list? We tried, we really tried."
Fort Erie's native centre had already had two clinics and Monday's in Niagara-on-the-Lake was the third for the Indigenous community in the region.
Organizing something on such a massive scale is not something the native centres are used to or prepared for, Dockstader said.
"The Fort Erie Friendship Centre shut off their phones on Monday, and from Monday until Friday night last week, our phones were rendered useless. People could barely get through to get service."
"It's just not what we're equipped to do," he says, but "we did it."
The clinic attracted Indigenous vaccine-seekers from various regions, including Hamilton and Beamsville, though Dockstader said most people came from Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, "but we have a few people from Niagara-on-the-Lake here."
Dockstader said he's appreciative of the region's decision to prioritize vaccines for the Indigenous community.
"Niagara Region public health has been amazing to work with. They're consummate professionals. Where we've had questions, they've been very quick with answers and I'm really happy about that," he said.
"Sometimes Indigenous people have been skeptical because of the history of health care providers and Indigenous people, whether it's nutrition experiments or the forced sterilization of our women, or whether it's the stereotyping that sometimes happens with medical professionals," he said.
"So the idea that we can have a clinic like this is is exactly the type of action that it takes to build the trust that needs to happen."
Some members of the Indigenous community have been skeptical about why they are at the front of the line for vaccinations, Dockstader said.
That grew out of the "historical mistrust, but I actually think that this is an act of goodwill," he said, adding there are medical reasons to address Indigenous people first.
"Unfortunately Indigenous people are over-represented in diabetes and high blood pressure and general comorbidities. But I also think it's the most fair and equitable thing to do."
"There was no there was no script for this, for us or for public health. But the Friendship Centre has been working in community for over 40 years, and public health has been doing what they do for a long time, and I hope this is the first of many partnerships we have with them."
Dockstader, who is under 55, was on a backup list for vaccines, and was able to get his Monday as well. He waited until the end of the day to make sure everyone else got theirs.
"I am the leader here, and my teaching is that leaders go last. So we make sure everyone's taken care of and then after, if there's enough and if public health deems it appropriate, then I'll get vaccinated today," he said before he knew if he'd be getting his shot.