The Canadian government announced on Tuesday that it will allocate $24.6 million to organizations providing support to First Nations off-reserve and Indigenous people in urban areas amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The funding will provide communities with food, mental health services, personal protective equipment, housing assistance, and more. It will also support education materials for children and youth, and transportation for Elders, according to the press release.
The funds have been disbursed to the National Association of Friendship Centres, the 2 Spirits in Motion Society, and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
While Canada’s Indigenous communities have so far been less impacted by COVID-19 than the broader Canadian population, First Nations leaders fear that a second wave could exacerbate long-standing resource gaps in communities.
"There are many factors such as remoteness, over-crowded housing, lack of access to drinking water, and more that require a dedicated plan and response," Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of the First Nations, said in a statement outlining the challenges facing Indigenous communities.
Around the world, Indigenous communities have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 because of structural inequalities around water access, health care, and more. These same inequalities are apparent in Canada and, as the pandemic unfolds, health experts have called on the national government to take further steps to protect high-risk individuals and ensure basic human rights.
As of June 25, less than 1% of Canada’s COVID-19 response funds had gone to Indigenous communities, even though First Nations represent 5% of the nation, according to the Conversation. The latest commitment is part of a total $1.7 billion committed to Indigenous and northern communities and organizations tackling the pandemic, the press release notes.
"As COVID-19 continues to affect Canadians across the country, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the critical work of these Indigenous organizations who have provided holistic and culturally-appropriate services and programming to Indigenous peoples during this pandemic," said the Honourable Marc Miller, minister of Indigenous Services, in a statement. "Their hard work and dedication has ensured that the unique needs of First Nations living off-reserve and Indigenous peoples in urban areas are supported during this crisis."