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VaxxFest provides COVID protection to youth

October 12, 2021 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor


Taking place in southern Alberta in late September, the first VaxxFest event saw 138 people receive a COVID-19 vaccination. The next iteration is scheduled for Oct. 15 and 16 in Onion Lake, Sask.


Come for the protection against COVID-19 and stay for the food, fun and prizes.

That was the slogan of VaxxFest, a festival-style event held in southern Alberta to get more First Nations people vaccinated.

Billed as “the best vaccination event you’ll ever experience,” the event took place on the Stoney Nakoda and Tsuut’ina first nations from Sept. 24 to 26. It included a live DJ, snacks, drive-in movies and a vaccination tent where people could get their COVID-19 shot. A range of Indigenous celebrities were also on hand to socialize with attendees.

The event was created by a project called The Power of 100, which aims to achieve a 100 per cent COVID-19 vaccination rate for all First Nations in Canada. It’s the creation of Dr. Lana Potts, medical director at Aakom Kiyii Health Services Centre in Piikani and Dr. James Makokis, a family doctor from Saddle Lake First Nation.

“When a herd of buffalo face a threat, they surround their young and face the danger head on. Their unity is their protection. COVID-19 is devastating our communities, but we can stand strong and ensure our future by vaccinating, together,” states the Power of 100 website.

The fourth wave of COVID-19 is causing more outbreaks in First Nations communities than it has during previous outbreaks, and First Nations Peoples are impacted by the deadly virus 13 times more than non-Indigenous people, Potts said.

“VaxxFest aims to protect the herd by encouraging youth to get behind their Elders, 95 per cent of whom are fully vaccinated,” Potts said.

The three-day event saw 138 people get vaccinated.

Personal connection

The event kicked off with renowned hoop dancer James Jones (known as Notorious Cree) and popular Indigenous social influencer Kendra Jessie each taking their first dose of the vaccine after recently contracting COVID-19.

“Once we personally went through COVID-19 and realized how it affected us as fairly healthy people, we knew the vaccine was an important step in helping protect ourselves from other strains of the virus and keep others safe,” Jones said. “I hope it encourages other youth to connect with their doctors and trusted health professionals to learn more and get the shot.”

Attendees had a chance to win prizes like $100 gift cards, MacBooks and iPads, while also meeting a variety of Indigenous celebrities, such as famous TikTok creator Kairyn Potts, singer Fawn Wood and actor/comedian Conway Kootenay (aka Smudge Pan).

Makokis was on hand with partner Anthony Johnson. The pair formed Team Ahkameyimok during a victorious turn on The Amazing Race Canada in 2019. Makokis has since become a sought-after speaker at many ATA events.

“The choice to get vaccinated is an individual decision that affects everyone and the overall health of our people. Getting vaccinated helps protect our Elders and communities from the COVID-19 virus, and those who are vaccinated are less likely to end up in hospital,” he said. “This is why we encouraged our young people who are the most at risk to show up to this weekend and get vaccinated.”

Promotion for the event included the school divisions operated by the Stoney and Tsuut’ina first nations.

Teacher Marie Daumler, who works for the Stoney Education Authority, visited the event along with some colleagues.

She was impressed by the welcoming atmosphere, which helped allay fears that some had around getting vaccinated. Having the opportunity to meet role models in their own community was a great benefit to students, she said.

“I think anything that can be done to put people at ease and see the bigger picture is awesome.” ❚

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