Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Marc Miller, minister of indigenous services, take part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 7, 2020. Miller says Indigenous communities have been facing an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases during the last few weeks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

COVID-19 cases rising in Indigenous communities across Canada

Reopening schools and businesses and places where physical distancing is not possible are all factors in the rise

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says Indigenous communities have been facing an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases during the last few weeks.

Miller says 673 COVID-19 cases have been reported in First Nations communities in all, and about 130 of them are active cases now.

He says Indigenous communities were successful in facing the first wave of COVID-19 with measures that limited the spread of the virus.

The measures included closing communities to outsiders, imposing local restrictions on gatherings and making sure that people were observing basic health and hygiene protocols.

Reopening schools and businesses and places where physical distancing is not possible are all factors in the rise.

Kluane Adamek, Yukon regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Wednesday that Indigenous people get their strength from connecting to their land, culture and languages.

“We need resources to support community-led, community-driven solutions,” she said.

Being out on the land, spending time with elders and being able to harvest are things that help First Nations to face the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. “The connection through spirituality, through ceremony and through cultural practices is incredibly important.”

A lot of these practices have been impacted by COVID-19, she said.

Many Indigenous communities are also dealing with the opioid crisis and more mental health issues because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

“It’s absolutely something that across the country isn’t dealt with in the same way that we have to response to it as northerners,” she said. “These are people from small communities that we know.

Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says First Nations communities are among the most vulnerable populations in Canada and need more assistance to keep them safe.

“First Nations face unique realities that require unique approaches,” Bellegarde said.

“Those living in poverty or in rural areas need more support and resources, including social and health supports for families.”

Dr. Evan Adams, the deputy chief medical officer of health at Indigenous Services Canada, said the biggest concern is ensuring that the more than 650 Indigenous communities are ready for potential COVID-19 outbreaks.

His home community on Vancouver Island, the Tla’amin Nation, had a cluster of over 30 cases.

“It is scary for them and it’s scary for us,” he said. “We want them to be prepared and not scared.”

Miller said the federal government has provided a total of $2.2 billion for Indigenous communities. “That has been deployed according to a formula based on population and community wellness.”

He said the government made the funding programs flexible so Indigenous communities have a lot of options on how to deal with COVID -19 outbreaks.

Miller said there is also a “hidden epidemic” of mental health problems hitting Indigenous people.

“We are deploying $82.5 million to tackle the mental health epidemic, which in fact has claimed more Indigenous lives than the COVID has during the same time period.”

These challenges come on top of issues Indigenous people have been facing for long time including overcrowding, underfunding, lack of infrastructure and limited access to clean drinking water in some communities.

“All these other things are exacerbated by COVID but still are present in the top of people’s minds,” said Miller.

He said Canadians have to recognize that Indigenous communities started off with a socio-economic gap that made them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“The fact that they have performed exceedingly well doesn’t change the fact that that socio-economic gap still exists.”

Adams said Indigenous communities are concerned about having enough personal protective equipment and about whether they will have access to enough medical staff during the second wave of the pandemic across Canada.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure their plans are dusted off and ready,” he said.

He said many Indigenous people can take advantage of the foraging and hunting season to stay outside, especially those who are living in remote and isolated communities.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Governments urging trick-or-treaters to stay safe this halloween.
Tofino and Ucluelet urge caution as trick-or-treaters hit the streets during COVID-19 pandemic

Ucluelet RCMP reminds drivers to be extra cautious and walk if possible.

Wickaninnish Community School student Priya Petch, 5, won a Chocolate Tofino gift card for her drawing centered on clean water. (Submitted photo)
Drawing contest showcases United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

“The SDGs are an important priority to keep in mind. They are all interconnected.”

A monument was unveiled during a ceremony in Tofino last week honouring Jo-Ann Fuller and Ivan Polivka. The monument will be placed on Hwy. 4 near Kennedy Lake. (Photo courtesy of Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC)
Somber ceremony held in Tofino to mark 10th anniversary of fatal ambulance crash

Beloved paramedics Jo-Ann Fuller and Ivan Polivka died in a tragic ambulance crash on Hwy. 4.

The candidates for the Mid Island-Pacific Rim riding in the 2020 provincial election. Clockwise from top left: Rob Clarke, Graham Hughes, Evan Jolicoeur, Helen Poon and Josie Osborne. Osborne was declared the winner on Saturday night. (Photos submitted )
POLL QUESTION: Are you happy with the results of B.C.’s provincial election?

Josie Osborne of the BC NDP and Tofino’s now-former mayor won the Mid Island - Pacific Rim seat.

Ucluelet RCMP detachment. (Westerly file photo)
Driver facing charges after crashing into pedestrian at Ucluelet crosswalk

“It’s a reminder to slow down and pay attention,” said Sgt. Steve Mancini.

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

The North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP are looking for information about William Mack, last seen in Duncan on Oct. 28. (File photo)
Police searching for missing man last seen near Duncan

William Mack, 72, was seen on Gibbins Road on Oct. 28

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 1987 file photo, actor Sean Connery holds a rose in his hand as he talks about his new movie “The Name of the Rose” at a news conference in London. Scottish actor Sean Connery, considered by many to have been the best James Bond, has died aged 90, according to an announcement from his family. (AP Photo/Gerald Penny, File)
Actor Sean Connery, the ‘original’ James Bond, dies at 90

Oscar-winner was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Most Read