Over $300M earmarked for Indigenous communities as Justin Trudeau unveils COVID-19 relief measures

In Ottawa, the federal government said more support is coming for Indigenous communities.

In front of Rideau Cottage – where he and his family remain in self-isolation – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled an $82-billion response package on Wednesday.

Of that money, $305 million is for Indigenous communities.

“To support immediate needs in First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation communities, we are setting up a distinctions-based Indigenous community support fund,” he said.

“These are some of the things our government is doing to make sure that no matter where you live, what you do, or who you are, you will get the support you need during this time. In Canada, public health should never hinge on financial consideration.”

Concrete details remain scarce.

Finance minister Bill Morneau said they’re working on it.

“We recognize that there will be – in cases like supporting Indigenous and northern communities – there will be details that we need to continue to work out,” he said at a press conference.

Nor did the COVID-19 committee mention the fund – or anything at all about Indigenous communities. But they did say there were, at that time, 598 confirmed cases in Canada with eight deaths.

“What is most concerning is that over the past week we started to see a sharp rise in cases and a number of provinces have reported cases with no links to travel. This is a signal that there is some degree of community spread, so our time to act is now.”

Trudeau said the government remains in constant contact with Indigenous leaders in communities.

Trudeau’s COVID-19 stimulus plan includes 27 billion for Canadian workers and businesses.

Businesses across Canada and the world are feeling the financial hit from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indigenous small business owners and artists are no exception. Trudeau’s announcement may offer hope.

Natalie Pepin, a small business owner, was supposed to be teaching a class in how to make moccasins.

That isn’t happening any time soon. The small business owner had to cancel all her workshops: moccasins, beading, tanning, all of them.

“This is my income,” she said.

“So, we had a full slate of workshops scheduled for the month of March. And we are not hosting any of them. That’s pretty devastating for us – for the centre where we host our workshops Many Indigenous cultural workshops happen at the Grove Centre. And they’ve all been canceled. So, for that business owner who is also a Métis woman it is also devastating.”

Her income this month will be zero.

For a new business trying to survive, the timing of this virus really hurts.

“To take a hiatus off a new business for a month means that the momentum you have going as a business owner slows down. It means that the people who were considering are now not considering joining us.”

Paul Seesequasis is an accomplished author and photographer.

He says he has lost thousands of dollars so far.

“It’s been pretty devastating. I’ve had several readings canceled this month, which amount to a few hundred dollars each,” he said, “but also I have a major photography exhibition that was supposed to open at the Grenville in Calgary next week. So that’s not just a cancellation of the exhibition and the money there – which would be thousands – but also as we speak I should be up north doing workshops at a Dene youth camp, so that also was postponed.

Seesequasis is concerned about Indigenous artists who are struggling to pay the bills.

“Even though I lost thousands this month, I at least have a roof over my head,” he said.

“I have a family network I can kind of rely on. But there are artists that are living on their own, or perhaps single parents and have to pay the rent, so I’m really concerned about those people.”