Indigenous Paramedic student reflects on ‘one of a kind’ experience administering COVID-19 vaccinations

Press Release

When Ornge invited students in Georgian’s Advanced Care Paramedic (ACP) program for a second time to help administer COVID-19 vaccinations in remote, fly-in Indigenous communities, Dustyn Paton knew he had to participate.

“I have Indigenous (Mohawk) heritage; I grew up on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve; I was born and raised there; and I currently work there as a paramedic,” he says.

“Six Nations was the reason I was able to go to college and get to where I am in life right now. So, when I had an opportunity to give back to some Indigenous communities, I was so excited about it.”

Dustyn, along with fellow ACP student Evan Daemke, volunteered to join Operation Remote Immunity, a COVID-19 vaccination program developed between Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Ornge, the province’s provider of air ambulance and critical care transport services.

Dustyn and Evan, who administered vaccines, are already primary care paramedics.

Jon Lee, a part-time instructor in Georgian’s paramedic programs and an Ornge critical care paramedic, was also on their team.

Second experience with Operation Remote Immunity

A team from Georgian had previously participated in Operation Remote Immunity in March to help administer second doses of the Moderna vaccine in Eabametoong First Nation.

This time, between June 26 and July 3, they travelled to three communities – Eabametoong, Kashechewan First Nation, and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation – to administer first doses of the Pfizer vaccine to kids aged 12 to 18.

We talked to Dustyn about his experiences as part of Operation Remote Immunity.

What was it like being part of Operation Remote Immunity as someone with Indigenous heritage?

It made the experience more personal for me.

Six Nations, where I grew up, is a pretty large reserve, so it’s not as rural and it’s fairly central to larger towns and cities like Brantford and Hamilton.

I had never been to any reserve outside of Six Nations before, and I certainly hadn’t visited any remote communities like the ones supported by Operation Remote Immunity.

It was really interesting for me because even though these communities are very remote and face a lot of adversity, there was a similar theme between them and my home reserve: the importance of community.

Their primary concern is the protection of the community and protecting the elders. That’s pretty consistent even at Six Nations. For me, that was pretty refreshing to see.

Being Indigenous and being able to go north to help protect communities means a lot to me.

Dustyn Paton, Georgian Advanced Care Paramedic student

While we were there, I also got an opportunity to talk to a lady who was a residential school Survivor, which was a little bit more personal for me because my grandparents were part of the residential school system.

Like the stories you hear about in the news, my grandparents were pulled from their homes as children.

That system led to a lot of generational trauma and long-term trust issues among our communities.

With the recent discoveries at the former residential schools across Canada coinciding with our time in community, the vaccination team had a heightened awareness of how our presence could be perceived.

Being Indigenous myself, it was perhaps easier for me to foster more trust with the communities we visited.

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