(May 29, 2020) – COVID-19 has exacerbated many existing challenges already facing Indigenous peoples, particularly those who live in remote areas. The Government of Canada is working with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities to support their immediate public health response, with the flexibility to address their specific needs through community-led solutions, while also identifying opportunities to provide longer-term support.
On May 29, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced new funding to provide critical support to Indigenous families and communities during this crisis based on needs that have been identified.
“COVID-19 has further highlighted the unique challenges that already exist for Indigenous peoples and communities,” stated the Prime Minister. “We are listening to Indigenous peoples and are working with them to ensure they have the support they need to get through this crisis.”
The funding includes:
$285.1 million to support the ongoing public health response to COVID-19 in Indigenous communities. The investment will fund community-led responses to the pandemic and provide targeted increases in primary health care resources for First Nations communities. In case of outbreaks, this funding can be drawn upon to provide surge capacity and additional support for community-based services in First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities.
$270 million to supplement the On-Reserve Income Assistance Program to address increased demand on the program, which will help individuals and families meet their essential living expenses. It will also help hire additional staff to better serve First Nations communities and connect individuals to other government programs.
“Canada has been clear since the beginning of this crisis that we will ensure Indigenous communities have the support they need,” stated Minister of Indigenous Services, Marc Miller.
“We continue to work closely with them to identify and meet their unique needs during these challenging times. Today’s announcement will help us to continue to support the health and safety of these communities, while ensuring that individuals and families who rely on income assistance for the basic essentials are not left behind during this pandemic.”
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde says the Prime Minister’s announcement of new funding is much needed and welcome. Increased investments in health care and specialized equipment, social assistance for First Nations families on-reserve, and new shelters for women and girls ensures First Nations have better tools to protect their citizens during this pandemic.
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, I have spoken directly with Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Miller about the need for increased supports for First Nations during this time. It is good news that Canada has taken this call to heart. This investment is an important step toward ensuring that no one is left behind during these unprecedented times,” said the National Chief. “Access to proper health care and protective equipment is essential. We must continue to support First Nations in their efforts to keep their people safe, not only during this current pandemic, but also from future health threats. I acknowledge the commitment by the federal government that all funding is scalable and must be based on needs”
Ottawa also announced federal funding of $44.8 million over five years to build 12 new shelters, which will help protect and support Indigenous women and girls experiencing and fleeing violence. This funding will help build 10 shelters in First Nations communities on reserve across the country, and two in the territories, to support Indigenous women and children. The government will also provide $40.8 million to support operational costs for these new shelters over the first five years, and $10.2 million annually ongoing. The federal government is also announcing $1 million a year ongoing, starting this year, to support engagement with Métis leaders and service providers on shelter provision and community-led violence prevention projects for Métis women, girls, and LGBTQ and two-spirit people.
“The challenges Indigenous women face are unique, complex, and multifaceted,” remarked Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.
“This new funding will help us continue investing in more safe shelter spaces in Indigenous and Northern communities.”
The AFN sees the funding announced for shelters for women, girls, and other at-risk people as an important step towards increasing the safety of our life-bearers across the country. First Nations women and girls need to have safe and reliable options when they are in difficult situations.
The new investment builds on the work already being done through the $305 million Indigenous Community Support Fund, and the additional $75 million provided for communities and organizations working with Indigenous peoples living in urban areas and off-reserve. According to a press statement, the Government of Canada is taking a distinctions-based approach to address the needs of Indigenous peoples and communities.
“Where needed, the government has also provided additional support, including in northwestern Saskatchewan, where funding has supported a collective effort between First Nations, the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan, the Government of Saskatchewan, and other partners to coordinate the COVID-19 response in the region.
“We will continue to work with Indigenous partners as we move forward to support their efforts to respond to COVID-19 and its health, social, and economic impacts.”