TORONTO – Ontario Premier Doug Ford is apologizing after accusing a First Nations MPP who got a vaccine in his home riding of “jumping the line,” even though he was invited to get the shot to combat vaccine hesitancy.
Ford phoned MPP Sol Mamakwa Friday afternoon to apologize to him directly for the accusation, which was made on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, Mamakwa said the premier’s comments demonstrate a lack of compassion and respect for First Nations.
“I was floored,” Mamakwa told CTV News Channel in an interview. “But I thought about his lack of understanding of on-reserve Indigenous people in the community because he kept referring to the on-reserve rollout.
“ The more I thought about it, the more (I thought about) the lack of compassion, the lack of respect that he has for Indigenous people, Indigenous leaders and the indifference that exists. ”
It was during Question Period at Queen’s Park on Thursday that Mamakwa came under fire from Ford. The NDP MPP from the Kiiwetinoong riding rose to ask the government what it has done to vaccinate vulnerable Indigenous people in urban areas.
Ford did not answer specifically, but shot back that vaccinating Indigenous people in remote communities was one of the government’s top priorities and then added the line-jumping accusation.
“That was one of our highest priorities to go into the 31 fly- in communities, ”Ford said. Not only did Ornge fly in, but the member flew in to get his vaccine. So thank you for doing that and kind of jumping the line. And I talked to a few chiefs that were pretty upset about that, for flying into a community that he does not belong but that’s here nor there. ”
Mamakwa said he was invited by community elders to get his second vaccine dose in Muskrat Dam Falls in early February. The community is in his home riding and the invitation was extended to him in order to help combat vaccine hesitancy.
He made no secret of his inoculation, posting about it at the time on social media as part of an effort to convince Indigenous people to accept COVID – 19 vaccines.
He said that Ford’s response represents a colonialist attitude towards First Nations people.
“His stereotypes about me as a First Nations MPP, you know, it’s what colonialism looks like in 2021,” Mamakwa said. “The premier’s saying where I should be as a First Nations person to get the vaccine while not understanding, or even caring, where Indigenous people live in Ontario and I think that was very clear.”
He also said he had no idea what Ford was talking about when he said that several chiefs were upset.
“No one has reached out to me. That’s the first time I have heard about it. I have no idea what he’s talking about, ”Mamakwa said.
Ontario has identified Indigenous people as a priority population for vaccination, regardless of where they live.
The province has been using the Ornge air ambulance service to fly vaccine supplies out to remote First Nations communities.
However Mamakwa said Indigenous people living in cities have largely been left behind.
He said Ford’s comments demonstrate the premier’s ignorance about how and where First Nations people live in the province.
“The premier is saying where I should be as a First Nations person to get the vaccine while not understanding, or even caring, where Indigenous people live in Ontario and I think that was very clear, ”he said.
He added it’s not up to the premier to decide which community he belongs to.
“I come from the community. I will not let Doug Ford and Minister Elliott separate me from my from the community where I’m from, or from the riding where I’m from because I am first and foremost a First Nations person, period, ”he said.
Mamakwa said he would appreciate an apology “if he (Ford) can understand how his comments can undermine the work of so many Indigenous leaders.”
Apology appreciated, but action needed: MPP
Ford did not apologize for the comments Thursday, despite calls from the opposition parties to do so.
It was during a news conference late Friday afternoon that Government House Leader Paul Calandra told reporters that the premier had phoned Mamakwa. Ford’s office also released a brief statement saying he had called Mamakwa to apologize.
Speaking with reporters at Queen’s Park late Friday afternoon, Mamakwa said he appreciates the call from Ford, but would like to see actions that improve conditions for First Nations people.
He said Ford called him at around 3 pm to say that he should not have attacked him personally and invited Mamakwa to come meet with him at his office.
While he appreciates the fact that the call came from the premier himself, Mamakwa said, he’d rather see the premier apologize to First Nations and take action to help them.
“If he’s apologizing, I think I would want to see some action,” Mamakwa said. “Actions speak louder than words and we need to be able to see those urban indigenous-led vaccine clinics in Toronto and Thunder Bay. They’re in a crisis right now and we need to be able to address those. ”
Asked if he would take Ford up on the invitation to meet with him at his office, Mamakwa said he would rather see the premier at a fly-in community in crisis.
“I would rather see him at a fly-in community in Northern Ontario where there is a housing crisis, where there is a water crisis, where there is an infrastructure crisis, where there’s a mental health crisis, ”he said. “And I think that’s the invite that I would have to do. It’s not just simply just going to his office and having a cup of tea. ”