More Funding Expected for Off-Reserve Indigenous People

May 21, 2020 Updated: May 21, 2020

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-percent 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.