PM offering $75 million more in COVID-19 aid to Indigenous people living off-reserve

The federal government is increasing the amount of funding aimed at Indigenous people in Canada who are living off-reserve, adding $75 million to the existing Indigenous Community Support Fund, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Thursday. 

On March 18, the government created a $305 million Indigenous Community Support Fund, which included $15 million for regional, urban and off-reserve Indigenous organizations.

Trudeau said topping up the funding for Indigenous communities living off-reserve and in urban centres is necessary, as the organizations focused on these populations are experiencing a high demand for their services.

“While all communities have had to wrestle with COVID-19 these past few months, the everyday realities of this crisis are different for everyone,” Trudeau said Thursday during his Rideau Cottage address.

“To mount an effective response to this crisis, we must adapt our approach and our programs to recognize and meet the particular needs of all Indigenous peoples, including those living in urban areas and off-reserve,” he continued.

The money is expected to be put into community-based projects such as those aimed at providing access to food, transportation, educational materials or mental health services.

It can also be used to purchase sanitation and personal protective equipment.

As has been the case with several recent announcements, however, the details of where the funding will go or who will qualify could take time to be sorted out, with the government saying Thursday that “funding for projects will start rolling out in the coming weeks.” 

Reacting to the announcement, Indigenous rights activist and the chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University Pam Palmater said the amount is a “drop in the bucket.”

In an interview on CTV News Channel she said the current public health crisis is overlapping with several other ongoing crises including the ongoing struggle for many Indigenous people in Canada to access adequate housing and clean drinking water.

“This, this money won't go anywhere near far enough,” she said.

Earlier this month, the Congress of Aboriginal People — which represents the interests of off-reserve Indigenous people in Canada — filed a federal court application alleging the federal government’s COVID-19 assistance has been “inadequate and discriminatory,” compared to other groups.

The organization says the government has “abandoned its fiduciary responsibility towards a significant number of Indigenous peoples during this pandemic.”

Trudeau used his address to also highlight previous pandemic assistance the federal government has offered Indigenous people in Canada, including loans and grants for Indigenous businesses, as well as assisting First Nations, Inuit, and Metis students and recent grads to find summer jobs.

He said, with the initial $15 million offered to off-reserve and urban Indigenous populations, funding has gone to providing groceries, cleaning supplies, and laptops so kids could keep up with their school work.  

“This wasn’t enough,” Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told reporters on Thursday.

“Today's announcement marks a five-fold increase in the amount of funding for urban Indigenous organizations. And I want to take a brief moment to acknowledge the members of Parliament from all parties who pushed very hard for this announcement to happen,” Miller said.

Miller also said the spread of COVID-19 on-reserve across Canada is “stabilizing,” with cases in some communities clearing up, though smaller outbreaks are still being discovered in other communities.

The government is continuing to send chartered flights of essential services and supplies to northern and remote Indigenous communities, including sending nurses and other health professionals who are trained in delivering culturally-sensitive care.    

SIGN UP NOW

Stay up-to-date and in-the-know by subscribing to one of our newsletters