Needs of Aboriginal pandemics increase as federal funds prepare to flow

Needs of Aboriginal pandemics increase as federal funds prepare to flow

Gloves, masks and disinfectants are difficult to find in Grassy Narrows First Nation, said Chief Rudy Turtle.

He said the store shelves 88 kilometers southwest of Kenora, Ontario are empty.

While worried that people will have enough food to eat – not to mention toilet paper – Turtle said his most pressing fear is more difficult to quantify: the risk of someone introducing COVID-19 into his community of over 1000 people.

“We are doing our best to control it, but it is really difficult,” said Turtle. “People should stay away from Grassy if they don’t have to come here.”

No one in Grassy Narrows is sick, according to Turtle. But five people in Kahnawake, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River opposite Montreal, tested positive for COVID-19 – the highest number of cases reported in an Aboriginal community to date.

“This is certainly cause for concern,” said Lloyd Phillips, commissioner of public safety for the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.

“As long as we slow the rate of transmission in our community to a manageable level and help the people who need it, we will get through that.”

The federal government has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to Aboriginal communities to address COVID-19. Today, Aboriginal Services Minister Marc Miller revealed the distribution of funding.

“A good first start”

Miller announced that the $ 305 million Aboriginal Community Support Fund will provide $ 215 million to First Nations, $ 45 million to Inuit and $ 30 million to Métis.

The remaining $ 15 million will go to Indigenous organizations that support those living far from their communities, said Miller.

Each First Nation will receive a base amount, which will be adjusted according to the population, remoteness and well-being of the community, said Miller.

“I think it’s a good first start,” said Phillips.

“The longer this pandemic goes … they may have to review what is going on in the communities, as it may be necessary to reinject funds.”

Grassy Narrows chief Rudy Turtle, center, said his community did not have enough personal protective equipment and was short of food. (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press)

Kahnawake, who has 7,917 residents on reserve, does not wait for the money to arrive.

The community has already set aside $ 9 million for workers and businesses affected by the pandemic before federal funds start to flow.

All aboriginal communities can apply for funding from a separate envelope of $ 100 million to update or create pandemic plans, disseminate public health messages and respond to short-term needs, according to Services aux Aboriginal Canada.

Funding committed by the federal government can be used to purchase portable shelters from regional providers for screening, assessment, isolation and accommodation for additional health service providers, the ministry said.

In a statement sent to CBC News, a spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada said that the department had so far sent two mobile shelters to the Island Lake area in northern Manitoba and had received requests for them. community structures in northern Saskatchewan.

“Communities are a priority, especially when there is dependence on winter roads,” wrote Rola Tfaili.

More money needed

But the money will not be enough for the 634 First Nations, said Assembly of Manitoba First Nations regional chief Kevin Hart.

He said $ 215 million would barely meet the needs of Canada’s 96 remote first nations, and Hart wants the military to be ready to help if necessary.

“If the First Nations ask for resources and have costs … there should be no delay,” said Mr. Hart.

“If we are going through a crisis that affects a community of, let’s say 1,000 people … you may be considering up to 300 victims of COVID-19 in a First Nation due to overcrowding.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches as Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, speaks at a press conference in Iqaluit, Nunavut, in March 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press)

The head of the national organization representing the Inuit said that he meets the needs on a daily basis and that the cost of responding to a pandemic is unclear.

“It remains to be seen how far it will take us and how much relief it will bring to our communities,” said Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

“The needs are going to be enormous, especially compared to those who have been laid off. The cost of living in our country of origin is two to three times higher than the Canadian average, depending on the community in which you live, so there is going to be significant need compared to the COVID-19 response in our communities. “

The $ 45 million allocated to the Inuit will be transferred directly to the four Inuit land claim regions, which will impose conditions on the funds, said Obed.

David Chartrand, Vice-President of the Métis National Council, plans to donate some of the federal COVID-19 funds to friendship centers and homeless shelters in Winnipeg. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

Miller promised “maximum flexibility” with the dollars to help meet local needs, adding that this investment is just the start.

“This is just one of the financial measures we are considering for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people,” he said.

“We know that more support will be needed and we will be there to ensure that no Aboriginal community is left behind. Our government is here to support you during this time. ”

Métis National Council vice-president David Chartrand said he was “very happy” with the federal government’s contribution and plans to donate part of the money to friendship centers and issue $ 10,000 of checks to shelters for homeless people in Winnipeg.

“The Métis government will take the lead in distributing resources to help,” said Chartrand.

“It is to be shared with everyone, not just with the Métis.”

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