The federal government will provide an additional $305 million to support Indigenous people during the COVID-19 pandemic, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller announced Wednesday.
Miller says the funding will support community initiatives that aim to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19 in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
“It is a testament to Indigenous leadership and, indeed, Indigenous peoples, that community exposure to the virus has been limited,” he said at a news conference in Ottawa.
“We want to continue to support their strong pandemic management and ensure that Indigenous leaders have the tools they need at their disposal to implement various aspects of their pandemic plans.”
The new funding will be available to communities on-reserve, and to organizations that serve Indigenous people living off-reserve.
A government news release said the money can be spent in a variety of ways — in addition to preparedness measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — such as supporting elders and vulnerable community members, addressing food insecurity, educational and other supports for children, mental health assistance and emergency response services.
Calls for support
The money will be distributed through a combination of direct transfers to Indigenous, Métis and Inuit leadership and through needs-based funding disbursed through an application process.
“This approach aligns with our commitment to support Indigenous leadership’s approaches to community wellness while providing the flexibility to respond to emerging needs, for example, in response to an outbreak of COVID-19,” said Miller.
The funding will come from the Indigenous Community Support Fund, which has already allocated $380 million in funding to over 260 Indigenous communities and organizations, Miller said.
Ottawa has faced calls from Indigenous leaders in recent weeks for more support as the daily rate of new COVID-19 cases flattens across the country. An online petition attempting to bring attention to chronic health inequities in those communities has garnered over 50,000 signatures.
According to federal government data, there have been 425 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on First Nations reserves since the pandemic began, including 34 hospitalizations and six deaths. Three hundred and ninety three people have recovered.
There have also been 17 cases in Nunavik, Que., all of whom have recovered.
As of July 31, the percentage of First Nations people who have tested positive for COVID-19 is one-quarter the rate of the rest of the Canadian population and the death rate on reserve is one-fifth.