Ottawa announces additional $75M in pandemic funding for Indigenous people living off-reserve

The federal government said Thursday that it will provide $75 million for organizations that address the “critical needs” of Indigenous people living in urban centres and off-reserve.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the additional funding for community groups that help Indigenous people with everything from groceries and mental health services to computers so kids can keep up with their school work.

It comes on top of $15 million announced in March for these groups.

“Indigenous community organizations in our cities and off-reserve do crucial work year-round, but these days, their services are in high demand because of the pandemic,” Trudeau said. “We need to make sure they have the resources to adapt and grow their services so they can fulfil their important mission.”

The additional funding 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 (CAP), 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. 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.

Off-reserve population feels ‘unseen’: association

The additional funding Trudeau announced today is expected to go to organizations like 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 Nations 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 (CERB) 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.


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