$75 million pandemic funding for Indigenous people living off-reserve announced

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

During his daily national address, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government would be providing $75 million to organizations that provide “critical needs” for Indigenous people that live in urban centres and off-reserve.

The funding will go directly towards the community groups that provide these needs, such as access to groceries, mental health services, and computers for kids doing online school.

This will add to the $15 million support funding that was announced in March, which adds up to an overall $90 million funding during the pandemic lockdown.

When announcing this fund, Prime Minister Trudeau addressed the fact that the Indigenous community’s needs for services were increased due to the pandemic and that those needs need to be met.

“We need to make sure they have the resources to adapt and grow their services so they can fulfill their important mission,” Trudeau said.

Funding is expected to come within the coming weeks, and programs in line for funding include the provision of sanitation and protective equipment, support for elders and transportation services, and the provision of education material for Indigenous youths.

Criticisms regarding funding and treatment of off-reserve Indigenous community

The funding announced comes after critics had accused the Trudeau government of ignoring the needs of thousands of Indigenous people living off-reserve and in urban centres.

Many of these Indigenous people were part of the demographic of Canada’s most vulnerable, and the pandemic beginning in mid-March only added on to the struggles that demographic was already facing, such as poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity.

The lack of funding for this group of Indigenous people brought on a protest led by the Congress of Aboriginal People (CAP), where the congress went to court and called the lack of funding “inadequate and discriminatory” in comparison to what other Indigenous groups have received when it comes to funding.

In March, the federal government created the Indigenous Community Support Fund, which amounted to $305 million in support.

Most of that funding went towards organizations that represent First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities that needed the support to prepare for the pandemic.

For off-reserve organizations, the amount they received was only $15 million, despite the fact that these organizations serve more than half of the Indigenous population in Canada.

The CAP only received $250,000 in funding, which is drastically lower than the $16 million that they sought after.

When addressing a Commons committee last week, the CAP’s national chief Robert Bertrand called the amount they received a “slap in the face”.

The funding announced today is expected to go towards organizations like the National Association of Friendship Centres, who have been providing support for off-reserve Indigenous people despite receiving low amounts of financial aid.

The association’s president Christopher Sheppard-Buote told the Commons committee last week that the off-reserve Indigenous community feels “unseen” during this pandemic.

Along with the funding announced today, off-reserve Indigenous people are also eligible for Canada’s aid benefits like the CERB and the wage subsidy program.

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