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COVID-19 spike in Stoney Nakoda prompts vaccination incentives

I encourage members to educate themselves, read about it, don’t just go off what one person says or another family member says, read about it for yourself and go that direction.”

STONEY NAKODA— As one of the highest active COVID-19 hotspots per capita in Alberta, Stoney Nakoda First Nation leadership is pushing for its community members to get vaccinated using incentives.

As of Thursday (June 17), there were 109 active cases in Stoney Nakoda, which has three distinct bands, Chiniki, Bearspaw and Wesley, in a community of about 5,000.

“Obviously what’s happening right now is our cases are spiking and I can’t help but think months ago or even a couple weeks ago if more of our members chose to get the vaccine our numbers wouldn’t be as high as it is today and that’s just facts. That's reality,” said Jordie Mark, a councillor for the Chiniki band.

Mark was on hand for a community vaccination clinic at Stoney Health Services last Thursday, which had door prizes, a traditional blessing ceremony, and special appearances from Elders and Olympic medallists Beckie Scott and Clara Hughes.

Although the special clinic had normal numbers for those receiving vaccinations, Mark is hopeful its publicity, and other incentives from leadership, will encourage more conversation and personal research into vaccinations.

“First and foremost, the information and communication with our Stoney Health team has been superb,” said Mark, who is fully vaccinated. “I encourage members to educate themselves, read about it, don’t just go off what one person says or another family member says, read about it for yourself and go that direction.”

Mark’s son, Jonah, was one of the first lined up to receive his second dose of the vaccine Thursday— His second dose.

For the 13-year-old athlete, being fully vaccinated means a huge step to returning to normal such as travelling and playing competitive basketball again.

“If they [young people in Stoney Nakoda] want to do something in public I suggest they do get it to just do more things,” Jonah said.

Like the budding basketball star, Hughes, a six-time Olympics medallist in speed skating and cycling, received her second dose of vaccinated Thursday at Stoney Health Services.

After the jab, Hughes said she was stoked it was on Stoney Nakoda, but also emotional.

“Stoney Health [Services] is such a fantastic organization and from what I’ve seen, through the pandemic, through all the restrictions, through vaccination roll out, Indigenous health services have truly led the way and this is not exception with Stoney Health today so to be able to be a part of this is it’s so special,” she said.

About 52 per cent of the eligible Stoney Nakoda population received at least one dose, according to Stoney Health Services. The province is at 70.6 per cent for those eligible for at least one dose.

Aaron Khan, executive director and CEO of Stoney Health Services, said there is a lot of medical communication going out to the community from Elders and leadership to get more of the community vaccination.

“We’re trying to educate and trying to support the needs of the community and provide the factual information for of our people,” Khan said. “I think vaccination is the ultimate solution.”

With neighbouring communities such as Banff and Lake Louise sitting at zero cases, Stoney Nakoda’s recent spike has prompted events and lotteries to encourage eligible band members to sign up for their vaccine.

The Bearspaw band is hosting a lottery of two $2,500 grand prizes, plus additional awards, that will be drawn on July 30 at noon at the Bearspaw Youth Centre.

Any Stoney Nakoda band member is eligible for the lottery on the condition they provide proof they’ve been vaccinated by the draw.

For more information, visit the Bearspaw First Nation Facebook page.

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

Jordan Small joined the Outlook in 2014 and covers the vast world of sports in the Bow Valley. A Barrie, Ont. native, he also wrote for RMO's Mountain Guide section and the MD of Bighorn beat.
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