This article is one in a series of real life stories from Indigenous VaxChamps who have shared their reasons for getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
For many Indigenous people, the COVID-19 pandemic was an interruption to the ceremonies, traditions and gatherings we've known since birth. For Saige Flaumitsch, a Dene Cree woman living in Vancouver, the pandemic interrupted her journey of self-discovery into her culture and ancestry.
“I really miss the events at the Friendship Centre," said Saige. “Because I was just starting to learn about my culture before the pandemic hit, so I'd really like to pick that up again."
Last March, as the pandemic swept across the globe, Saige wrote an article titled “20 in 2020: finding myself as a young Indigenous woman" in the Vancouver street newspaper, Megaphone.
Originally from Łutsël K'é Dene First Nation in the Northwest Territories, she was adopted into a non-Indigenous family at birth. Growing up without ties to her roots left her feeling “guilt and shame" and estranged from her ancestry.
“In the worst part of COVID-19, I was stuck in the cycle of domestic violence, addiction, and trauma—a life that my biological mom never wanted me to have," Saige wrote in the Megaphone.
Things turned around for Saige earlier this year when she joined the Indigenous Wellness and Reconciliation Team at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. It was a job involving meeting with Indigenous patients—often at-risk youth like she was once—and advocating for their needs.
When the COVID-19 vaccines became available, Saige saw them as a path back—not just to the way things were before the pandemic—but to new opportunities offered by reconnecting with her culture and her biological parents.
“I asked (my mother) if she wanted to visit me or if I could visit her and if she had her vaccine," said Saige. “But she said, 'Oh no, I'm not getting (the vaccine).' I didn't want to visit and put her at risk."
Both her biological parents ended up getting COVID-19, though they recovered.
Saige said that many Indigenous people distrust the government because of the history of colonialism in Canada, a sentiment she “completely understands."
However, as a health care worker, Saige said she's also aware that Indigenous people have far greater health risks from contracting COVID-19 than non-Indigenous people.
“We have a lot of pre-existing health conditions that make us more vulnerable," said Saige. “I'm predisposed to diabetes because both my biological parents had that."
The “challenge for health care workers," as Saige puts it, is in gaining back that trust from Indigenous people. It's something she hopes to help along by being another friendly face in a system that has become known for systemic racism against Indigenous people.
“I remember walking into the room of a patient the other day and I said, 'Hi, I'm Saige with the Indigenous Wellness Team.' And she smiled and said, 'Oh, thank you, I really wanted to talk to a native person right now.'"
Despite her own personal struggles, Saige remains optimistic about the future and says we will one day overcome COVID-19.
“I can't live in fear. You can't think about that when you're just trying to move forward. We've come a long way through the pandemic. And I think we've come a long way with vaccinations. We're so close to being able to return to our normal lives, our culture, our gatherings, our traditional pow wows. We can do it."