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Volunteers of the Odawa Native Friendship Centre's Bannock Bus Outreach program hand out coffee and food to those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic, in downtown Ottawa, on April 16, 2020.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The federal government has announced $75-million in new funding for organizations to help address the needs of Indigenous people living in urban centres and off-reserve.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that Indigenous people who live off-reserve or in a city deserve services that are culturally appropriate, adding the government is working to make sure those individuals do not fall through the cracks.

“Indigenous community organizations in our cities and off reserve do crucial work year-round but these days their services are in high demand because of the pandemic,” Mr. Trudeau said at his daily news briefing.

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“We need to make sure they have the resources to adapt and grow their services so they can fulfill their important mission.”

In March, the government announced $305-million for an Indigenous Community Support Fund that included $15-million for such services.

But organizations such as the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) and the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) said that funding envelope fell short of what is required to help Indigenous people living in urban settings and off-reserve during COVID-19.

Last week, the CAP submitted a court application to challenge the amount of federal relief money allocated to off-reserve Indigenous peoples during the pandemic; in its filing in Federal Court, CAP said it took issue with an earlier $250,000 allocation, adding the funding amount was discriminatory and inadequate.

CAP National Chief Robert Bertrand told a House of Commons committee that his organization, a national voice for off-reserve status and non-status Indians, Métis and southern Inuit, needs to be there for its constituents, including those living in cities such as Winnipeg and Prince Albert, Sask.

Mr. Bertrand ​told The Globe and Mail that CAP’s board of directors will be meeting on Friday to discuss the latest funding announcement from the government and its next steps.

The $75-million announcement is an improvement, he said, adding questions remain about how the money will be rolled out and divided for organizations supporting urban and rural Indigenous people.

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“We always wanted, from the very start ... to work with the federal government on this,” he said. "We will wait to see the specifics of the program to see how we are going to continue.”

NAFC, a network of more than 100 friendship centres and provincial and territorial associations across Canada, has raised concerns about the funding allocation.

In response to Thursday’s announcement, association president Christopher Sheppard-Buote said in an interview he is optimistic about the funding but he also remains extremely cautious on how it will be distributed.

“We don’t know what it looks like, we don’t know the [funding] structure,” he said. “I just need to see the numbers.”

Mr. Sheppard-Buote said Canada needs to recognize and shape policy around the understanding there has been a huge evolution of what being an Indigenous person in Canada means, particularly for 61 per cent who do not live in Inuit Nunangat, Métis homelands or First Nations.

“We are typically unseen in public policy," he said.

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The federal government is hiking payments to agencies serving Indigenous people who live in cities and off reserves to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Canadian Press

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