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Feds giving additional pandemic help to Indigenous communities

Wednesday, January 13, 2021 @ 5:13 PM | By Terry Davidson

Ottawa is giving an additional $1.2 billion to Canada’s Indigenous communities to help them combat rising case numbers of COVID-19.

On Jan. 13, Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller made the announcement and talked of the need to address First Nations, Inuit and Métis being particularly hard hit by the ongoing spread of the virus.

Miller pointed to rising numbers of cases in various Indigenous communities, warning that “numbers continue to rise … with over 800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on reserve over this past week.”

“These numbers continue to be alarming,” he said. “They’ve now exceeded the national average and will continue to do so if … unchecked. I can’t stress the importance of following public health guidelines. Those measures are in place because they work. Despite the light at the end of the tunnel, the next few months will be difficult.”

Miller noted that vaccines are being rolled out, including to those in Canada's northern territories, but stressed that Indigenous communities are being disproportionately impacted by the health crisis and, on top of that, face “systemic racism and discrimination.”

“We recognize that First Nations, Inuit and Métis have historically endured and continue to endure systemic racism and discrimination when seeking health care, resulting in mistrust in Canada’s health-care system. We also know that Indigenous peoples, regardless of where they live, experience a high burden of illness and are at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications.”

Miller said the health system has “often failed them and treated them as second-class citizens” and pointed to Indigenous in remote communities being subjected to unusual measures during the pandemic.

“There’s been no exception through COVID-19. We’ve seen, for example, people [having] to travel incredible distances and be subject to an increased risk of COVID-19. … These are challenges when we look at some of the measures we have to deploy within communities, whether it’s testing; whether it’s increased isolation capacity; whether it is, in some cases, evacuations we wouldn’t necessarily do in other settings. These are all present, lived realities of these communities.”

Miller pointed out that doses of the Moderna vaccine are being sent to areas in Canada’s North and that information indicates that by the end of March Canada will have received enough “to vaccinate 75 per cent of adult population in [Canada’s] territories.”

According to a government rollout document, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon had received 7,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine as of Jan. 7, while Nunavut had received 6,000.

 Miller called the logistics of a national vaccine rollout a “complex undertaking” and depends on “full collaboration and partnership.”

He said the $1.2 billion includes $380 million for the Indigenous Community Support Fund, which, according to a news release, will “ensure continued critical support for on-the-ground, community-led solutions.”

It also includes $186 million for the protection of vulnerable “elders” in Indigenous-based long-term care homes and those living in “home settings.”

According to Indigenous Services Canada, there were 4,384 active cases of COVID-19 in on-reserve First Nations communities as of Jan. 12 — an increase after numbers plateaued in December.

As of Jan. 12, there had been 11,502 confirmed cases, 7,011 recoveries and 107 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Ottawa has given $4.2 billion in COVID-19 support to Indigenous and northern communities and organizations since March, states the release.

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