OTTAWA — The federal government is to provide more financial support to help off-reserve Indigenous People weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
The additional funding expected today comes amid criticism that the Trudeau government has largely ignored the plight of thousands of Indigenous people who live off-reserve and in urban centres.
Many of them were already among Canada’s most vulnerable before the pandemic hit in mid-March — struggling with poverty, homelessness, food insecurity and mental health and addiction issues.
The Congress of Aboriginal People, which represents some 90,000 off-reserve and non-status Indigenous people, has gone to court over what it says is the “inadequate and discriminatory” funding it has received compared to other Indigenous groups.
In mid-March, the government created the $305-million Indigenous Community Support Fund, most of which went to organizations representing First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities to help them prepare for and cope with the pandemic.
Only $15 million of that was allotted for off-reserve organizations, even though they serve more than half of Canada’s Indigenous population, and of that, CAP, which is seeking $16 million, received just $250,000.
“The amount CAP has received for our constituents across Canada is a slap in the face,” the group’s national chief, Robert Bertrand, told a Commons committee last week.
The additional funding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to announce today is expected to go to organizations that serve the off-reserve Indigenous population, such as the National Association of Friendship Centres.
The association says it has been delivering food, dealing with increased domestic violence, caring for elders and helping off-reserve Indigenous people find safe shelter and transportation and apply for emergency aid benefits, despite little financial help from Ottawa.
Association president Christopher Sheppard-Buote last week told the Commons committee that people not living on a First Nation reserve or in an Inuit or Metis community feel “unseen” by the federal government during the pandemic.
However, other emergency aid programs created for the general population — including the $2,000 per month Canada Emergency Response Benefit and the 75-per-cent wage subsidy program — are available to eligible off-reserve Indigenous people.
As well, the government announced in April up to $306.8 million to help small- and medium-sized Indigenous businesses, and to support Indigenous institutions that offer financing to these businesses.
At that time, the government said the funding — providing short-term, interest-free loans and non-repayable contributions — would help some 6,000 Indigenous-owned businesses survive the pandemic.