Cree pilot honoured to deliver COVID-19 vaccine to his own nation

A Cree pilot says he was honoured to be the person who delivered vaccines to some Cree communities in northern Quebec. 

Air Creebec pilot Willard Petagumskum flew vaccines to all of the coastal Cree communities in Quebec on Jan. 16. It marked the start of a regional vaccination campaign across Cree territory and an important step in the Cree fight against COVID-19.

“I was happy that we would be transporting the vaccine. Because with everything we have been going through with this pandemic … that it would help our people,” said Petagumskum in Cree.

As of Tuesday, there were 86 positive COVID-19 cases tied to an outbreak at the start of the new year in the region.

Two Cree communities — Mistissini and Oujé-Bougoumou — have been hit particularly hard. There are 52 positive cases in Mistissini and 28 in Oujé-Bougoumou, according to the latest numbers from Cree public health. 

I was happy that we would be transporting the vaccine.– Willard Petagumskum, Air Creebec pilot

For Petagumskum, who is from Whapmagoostui, the vaccine is an important way to protect vulnerable people in Cree communities.

Cree pilot Willard Petagumskum, left, who is from Whapmagoostui, along with Algonquin flight attendant Stephanie Richmond, who is from Kitigan-Zibi, on Jan. 16. Both Air Creebec employees were involved in delivering vaccines to northern Quebec Cree communities. (Submitted by Stephanie Richmond)

“There is a vaccine for [COVID-19] to help many … elders and all our people,” said Petagumskum. 

So far in the vaccination campaign, more than 8,200 people have received the vaccine that Petagumskum delivered, according to health officials.

“I’m glad to be a part of this with the nurses and doctors, they do a lot to help our people. The small part of me being able to help out with this, that made me happy.”

The vaccine delivery happened in the middle of a snowstorm on Jan. 16, but after 30 years as pilot, Petagumskum took it in stride.

“When I woke up Saturday morning to get ready for work, I noticed it was snowing a lot. There was a snowstorm in Montreal.”

Under heavy snow, Air Creebec Flight C-19 was readied for a one-day delivery run to Eeyou Istchee on Jan. 16, carrying doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (CBHSSJB/Rodolphe Beaulieu-Poulin)

Petagumskum needed to have a negative COVID-19 test before he could make the flight. He said he will get the vaccine himself as soon as he’s able. 

‘I want people to look after themselves even after you receive your shot of this vaccine.  You still have to be careful,” he said.

WATCH | Resident Fred Tomatuk watches the flight carrying the vaccine land in Eastmain, Que.:

Doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine were flown on Air Creebec to all the coastal Cree communities in Quebec on Jan. 16. It was the start of a regional vaccination campaign across Cree territory. 2:18

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