Update on COVID-19 in Indigenous communities


OTTAWA – Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic both the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, and Dr. Tom Wong, Chief Medical Officer of Public Health, has been providing regular updates to media.

In lieu of an in-person briefing this week, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) is providing the following COVID-19 update.

As the summer months bring warmer weather across many of the provinces, it is a great opportunity to go out on the land. Outdoor activities can be beneficial for mental and physical health, so long as people remember to take some simple actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during these outings by limiting the size of group gatherings and maintaining a physical distance of at least 2 arms from others (approximately 2 metres or 6 feet).

Additionally, within communities and across the country, individuals can help by:

  • avoiding all non-essential trips in the community;
  • wearing a non-medical mask when physical distancing is not possible; and
  • limiting contact with people at higher risk, such as Elders, those in poor health, or with underlying health conditions.

The COVID-19 curve continues to flatten in First Nation, Inuit, and Métis communities as leaders work tirelessly to make sure their community members have access to the most up-to-date public health information and to advocate for the support of their communities. To improve these efforts, some regional health authorities and First Nations are working toward sharing more COVID-19 data for analysis and release as desired, in support of self-determination.

On First Nations communities in provinces, as of July 16, ISC is aware of:

  • 352 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19
  • 30 hospitalizations
  • 314 recovered cases

There is a total of 17 confirmed positive cases in Nunavik, Quebec, and all have recovered.

While these are positive developments, individuals and communities need to remain vigilant in employing measures to protect themselves, their families, and communities.

The Government of Canada continues to work with and support First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders and communities, at each stage of the pandemic, to ensure that we meet ongoing needs, fill gaps when preventing and responding to COVID-19, and assist sectors of these economies so that they are all able to recover from this pandemic.

ISC is supporting communities’ COVID-19 response plans by strengthening health service capacity, community health infrastructure, infection prevention, and control, and responding to requests for medical equipment and other supplies.

Last week, $2,657,560 was announced to support the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Mental Health and Addictions Pandemic Response Program, a unique community-driven, First Nations-led initiative responding to the specific health needs of community members in northern Ontario. It will identify mental health and wellness services that are already available, and bridge the existing gaps so that every individual can have access to culturally safe and community-based mental health services when needed.

We are also working directly with communities to identify surge health infrastructure needs to support the capacity to screen, triage, and isolate in the event of possible COVID-19 outbreaks, and to accommodate additional health professional staff deployed to communities to respond to COVID-19. This includes funding the re-tooling of existing community spaces and procuring mobile structures through vendors that can be rapidly deployed in communities that need them.

ISC continues to quickly process Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requests, as effectively as possible, to help communities stand ready to respond to COVID-19 and to ensure the safety of healthcare workers and others supporting the delivery of health services. As of July 14, we have shipped 1,024 orders for PPE, including hand sanitizers, N95 masks, isolation shields, and gloves.

To date, the Government of Canada has responded to hundreds of requests from Indigenous communities and organizations to support a variety of measures, which include addressing additional space for medical screening and self-isolation, providing support to Elders, as well as contracting additional medical professionals to support communities in their response to the virus.

As COVID-19 continues to affect Canadians across the country, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis are also facing health, social, and economic challenges. The Government of Canada recognizes that Indigenous Peoples have unique needs, especially those who are separated from their families and communities. It is known that a number of social determinants of health contribute to the possibility of outbreaks in Indigenous communities. Indigenous Peoples in Canada experience higher rates of overcrowding in housing and a higher burden of chronic disease than non-Indigenous Peoples. Some live in remote and isolated parts of the country. Lack of opportunity and resources compound longstanding issues that are the legacy of colonization. ISC recognizes that we need to look with a social, economic, and cultural lens to provide the proper supports – to keep people safe.

As part of the COVID-19 response, the Government of Canada committed $90 million for Indigenous organizations and communities that are providing services to First Nations off-reserve and Indigenous Peoples living in urban centres during the COVID–19 pandemic. This funding supports community-based projects that address the critical needs of some of the most vulnerable Indigenous populations during this crisis, including food security, mental health support services, and sanitation and protective equipment. It could also help with other needs, such as support for Elders, transportation, and educational materials for Indigenous children and youth.

The Government of Canada also made available funding to address immediate health, economic, and transportation needs in the North. This includes transfers to the governments of Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut to support their COVID-19 health and social services preparations and response and has support air carriers to ensure the continued supply of food and other essential goods and services to remote fly-in communities.

As we look ahead with cautious optimism, the priority remains supporting Indigenous leaders as they work to protect the health, safety, and prosperity of communities. We understand that re-opening doesn’t mean the same for everyone.

Last week, the Special Advisory Committee’s Public Health Working Group on Remote and Isolated Indigenous Communities released guidance on re-opening to assist Indigenous leadership in making decisions as we proceed through this pandemic. The Working Group includes representatives from national and regional First Nation, Inuit, and Métis organizations, health authorities, as well as federal, provincial, and territorial governments.

No community will be left behind. The Government of Canada stands ready to support communities to respond to their needs, according to their priorities, and recognize that we can only do this in close collaboration with Indigenous leadership across this country.

Quick facts

  • Approximately $1.7 billion has been committed in specific support to Indigenous and northern communities and organizations:
  • $285.1 million to support the ongoing public health response to COVID-19 in Indigenous communities.
  • $380 million for a distinctions-based Indigenous Community Support Fund which includes $90 million to support Indigenous Peoples living in urban centers.
  • $10 million for emergency family violence prevention shelters on-reserve and in Yukon to support women and children fleeing violence.
  • $72.6 million for health and social services support to the governments of Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, for health and social support.
  • $34.3 million for territorial businesses, through CanNor’s Regional Relief and Recovery Fund.
  • $25 million for enhancement to the Nutrition North Canada Subsidy.
  • $17.3 million in support for Northern Air Carriers.
  • $15 million for CanNor’s Northern Business Relief Fund.
  • Up to $306.8 million in interest-free loans to help small and medium-sized Indigenous businesses.
  • $75.2 million in 2020-21 in distinctions-based support for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation students pursuing post-secondary education
  • $270 million to supplement the On-Reserve Income Assistance Program to address the increased demand on the program, which will help individuals and families meet their essential living expenses.
  • $44.8 million over five years to build 12 new shelters, which will help protect and support Indigenous women and girls experiencing and fleeing violence. The government will also provide $40.8 million to support operational costs for these new shelters over the first five years, and $10.2 million annually ongoing. Starting this year, $1 million a year ongoing will also be provided to support engagement with Métis leaders and service providers on shelter provision and community-led violence prevention projects for Métis women, girls, and LGBTQ and two-spirit people.
  • $117 million in new funding to support community-owned Indigenous businesses and $16 million in new funding to support Indigenous tourism through the pandemic and into recovery.
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