Ontario vows to provide COVID-19 support for Indigenous communities within province

ONTARIO – The provincial government announced last week $37.8 million in funding for First Nations in Ontario as part of its $17 billion COVID-19 response plan.

The funds are divided into four sub-categories. First is a $16.4 million injection into the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs to support emergency funds for items such as food, critical goods, household supplies, transportation and support and care. Funds are also earmarked for self-isolation facilities in remote and Northern communities, prevention and awareness initiatives and pandemic planning, as well as responsive services and supports for Indigenous people living in urban areas.

Some $10 million will be directed to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, with those funds going to support Indigenous communities and family support agencies as they address the needs of vulnerable children, family and elders during COVID-19.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is getting $7.4 million to help social service providers, charities and other non-profit organizations to deliver housing services to Indigenous people living off-reserve.

Finally, the Ministry of Transportation is getting $4 million to spend on its Northern airports to ensure that remote communities still have access to much-needed goods and services, or to close airports if that is a community’s wish.

Of the above funding, only the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs and Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services funding appears to apply to those living on-reserve on Manitoulin Island.

“We know the continuation of social services is critical to the unique needs of First Nations, Inuit, Métis and urban Indigenous communities. We’re committed to responding to those needs now and as they continue to develop,” said Todd Smith, minister of Children, Community and Social Services, in a news release announcing the funding.

Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier said he had seen the announcement but, as far as he knew, the province had yet to announce any specific details.

“I’m awaiting the details of what those spending commitments are going to be so we can access them when they become available,” said Ogimaa Peltier. “Any supports that are made available will definitely be welcomed because we’re doing our part here in the community, and we will access anything that is made available.” 

Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) Ogimaa-kwe Patsy Corbiere said her community has received some funding from the federal government but she was also not sure of when these provincial dollars would begin to flow.

“We’ve been getting prepared, updated our emergency response plan and made an influenza plan that we can use for COVID-19. We’ve been distributing that information to our community for the last couple of weeks,” said Ogimaa-kwe Corbiere.

A big portion of AOK’s preparatory activities using the federal funds have been gathering food supplies, cold medication, diapers and other household essentials in case community members are in need if grocery store availability gets reduced in the future. It has also been giving grocery gift cards to households in the community so they can purchase what they need—purchasing limits at stores have eliminated the ability for the community to do big bulk purchases of food itself.

“We’re not acting in fear, we’re just continuing in the stride of what we can do, which is to keep purchasing stuff for our communities, mostly food and sanitary supplies like soap,” said Ogimaa-kwe Corbiere.

The press release also stated that Ontario is working with the Indigenous business community to find ways to address the economic impacts of COVID-19 on Indigenous economies and workers.