Ottawa to announce additional pandemic funding for Indigenous people living off-reserve

The federal government must provide more financial support to help indigenous people living outside the reserve to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The additional funding to be announced today comes amid criticism that the Trudeau government has largely ignored the plight of thousands of indigenous people living outside the reserve and in urban centers.

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Many of them were already among Canada's most vulnerable before the mid-March pandemic – battling poverty, homelessness, food insecurity and mental health and addiction problems.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), which represents about 90,000 indigenous people outside the reserve and without status, went to court for what it says is the "inadequate and discriminatory" funding it received compared to other indigenous groups.

In mid-March, the government created the US $ 305 million Indigenous Community Support Fund, the majority of which goes to organizations representing First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities to help them prepare and deal with pandemic.

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Only $ 15 million went to organizations outside the reserve, even though they serve more than half of Canada's indigenous population. As a result, CAP, which seeks US $ 16 million, received only US $ 250,000.

"The amount CAP received by our voters in Canada is a slap in the face," the group's national head, Robert Bertrand, told a Commons committee last week.

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Population outside the reserve feels “invisible”: association

The additional funding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is due to announce today is expected for organizations serving the indigenous population outside the reserve, such as the National Association of Friendship Centers.

The association says it is delivering food, dealing with rising domestic violence, caring for the elderly and helping indigenous people outside the reserve to find safe shelter and transport and apply for emergency aid benefits, despite Ottawa's limited financial aid.

The association's president, Christopher Sheppard-Buote, told the Commons committee last week that people who do not live in a First Nations reservation or in an Inuit or Metis community feel "invisible" by the federal government during the pandemic.

However, other emergency aid programs designed for the general population – including Canada's Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) for $ 2,000 a month and the 75% wage subsidy program – are available to eligible Indians outside of the reservation.

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In addition, the government announced in April up to $ 306.8 million to help small and medium-sized indigenous companies and to support indigenous institutions that provide financing to these companies.

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At that time, the government said the financing – providing short-term, interest-free loans and non-repayable contributions – would help some 6,000 indigenous-owned companies survive the pandemic.

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