The federal government said Monday it intends to make a new investment of $18-billion over the next five years to improve the quality of life for people living in Indigenous communities.
In its budget, the government said it will spend an additional $1.2-billion in fiscal 2021-22 to support communities, including $478.1-million for continued public-health responses such as hiring nurses, helping at-risk patients isolate and to distribute personal protective equipment.
During the pandemic, many Indigenous leaders have said they have a heightened concern about the impact of the virus on their communities. Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam has also said Indigenous peoples face a higher risk of severe outcomes from the coronavirus than other groups due to higher rates of underlying medical conditions, challenges of remote and fly-in communities, and health inequities.
In her budget address, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said it is important to highlight how Indigenous peoples have led the way in battling COVID-19, and their success is a “credit to Indigenous leadership and self-governance.”
She added that the federal government has made progress in righting historic wrongs of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples, but work remains.
“We will invest more than $18-billion to further narrow gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, support healthy, safe and prosperous Indigenous communities, and advance reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation,” Ms. Freeland said.
The budget adds $760.8-million to the Indigenous Community Support Fund set up last year for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation communities, as well as urban and off-reserve Indigenous organizations. The fund assists communities and organizations in responding to the coronavirus.
The fiscal blueprint also references Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old mother of seven children from the Atikamekw de Manawan, who died at the Joliette Hospital in Quebec in September after receiving degrading insults from two hospital staff.
The document said that Ms. Echaquan’s death made clear the “devastating consequences of anti-Indigenous racism in our health care systems.”
The budget proposes providing $126.7-million over three years, beginning in 2021-22, designed to ensure health systems are free from racism and discrimination, and that patients are respected and safe.
The document said funding would include support for patient advocates and cultural-safety training for medical professionals. It pitches providing $12.5-million over five years, beginning in 2021-22, and “$2.5-million ongoing” to support families and coronavirus survivors.
The budget also proposes providing $100-million over three years, starting in 2021-22, to the Public Health Agency of Canada to support mental-health projects for populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including health care workers, front-line workers, youth, seniors, Indigenous people and racialized and Black Canadians.
There are several other spending proposals aimed at Indigenous communities, including $1.7-billion over five years to cover operating and maintenance costs of community infrastructure on reserves, an area of major concern for First Nations leaders. As of Monday, there were 52 long-term drinking-water advisories in effect in 33 communities.
The federal government also wants to spend $31.5-million over two years to support the co-development of an action plan with Indigenous partners to implement legislation on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples (UNDRIP). On Monday, the bill, which proposes aligning federal laws with the international commitment on the rights of Indigenous peoples, was adopted at second reading in the House of Commons.
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