Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam delivers her opening remarks during a news conference Monday Oct. 5, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ottawa unveils more pandemic support for Indigenous communities

The federal government will invest over $120 million to help Canada’s Indigenous communities cope with the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

The new funds will help First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation communities address their most critical needs, including hiring additional staff and offering training for early learning and childcare facilities, Trudeau said.

“The last few months have been tough for everyone, but for some people things have been especially hard,” Trudeau said during a press conference in Ottawa. “Indigenous Peoples and communities continue to face unique challenges during this pandemic.”

Access to safe and culturally relevant early learning and childcare is essential to the recovery of Indigenous communities from COVID-19, Trudeau said.

The federal government will also invest over $25 million to help Indigenous post-secondary institutions with increased costs from the pandemic, the prime minister added.

The funding will help Indigenous communities retain staff, adapt courses for online learning, and implement public health and safety measures, like additional hand washing stations and safe space barriers, Trudeau added.

In addition, Ottawa will also provide $59 million to improve infrastructure in First Nations communities in order to meet a range of COVID-19 health and safety standards, Trudeau said.

“Moving forward, we will continue to work with communities on what they need to protect people from this virus,” Trudeau said.

The new money is on top of more than $2.2 billion the federal government has already allocated to help Indigenous and northern communities get through the health crisis.

Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, foreground, and Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, take part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 7, to sign a protocol agreement to advance First Nations’ exercise of jurisdiction over child and family services. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) welcomed the announcement of new funding.

“Today’s announcement acknowledges the important role that First Nations early learning and child care programs play in developing happy and healthy First Nations children,” Bellegarde said in a statement.

“The pandemic has exacerbated systemic disadvantages for First Nations, making these programs that support our children’s wellbeing more important than ever.”

Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart said the funding not only will help First Nations early learning and child care programs reopen safely when they are ready, but also recognizes the work they have done throughout the pandemic.

“We want to lift up the staff and management at our First Nations early learning and child care programs. They have done amazing work supporting our children and families during the pandemic,” Regional Chief Hart said.

“This investment is a good first step to ensure that this work is recognized and can operate safely as many of our communities move into the second wave of this pandemic.”

This investment comes in addition to the September 2020 Throne Speech, in which the federal government committed to creating a Canada-wide early learning and child care system.

Bellegarde said he will continue to speak up for the needs of First Nations children, families and early learning and child care providers, particularly as Canada moves to create a national early learning and child care system.

“We must ensure that First Nations are properly supported in a new national system for early learning and child care, and further that the distinct needs and priorities of First Nations are respected in this, which is especially important in the context of COVID-19,” the national chief said.

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