P.E.I. Native Council says members face mental health, housing and other struggles through pandemic
National group calls offer of federal funding ‘slap in the face,’ challenges Ottawa in court
The Native Council of P.E.I. says its roughly 1,000 members are "double-disadvantaged" as they struggle to deal with housing, hunger and mental health issues under the COVID-19 pandemic — and the council itself struggles with limited resources to try to help them.
Wednesday, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) — an umbrella group encompassing the council and nine other organizations representing off-reserve Indigenous people across the country — filed an application in federal court seeking to overturn a federal funding allocation.
The Congress argues the $250,000 in COVID-19 relief funding it was offered by Indigenous Services Canada was so far below funding offered to other Aboriginal groups as to be discriminatory under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"The amount CAP has received for our constituents across Canada is a slap in the face," CAP national Chief Robert Bertrand told a House of Commons committee Wednesday.
Group already vulnerable, says chief
P.E.I. Native Council Chief Lisa Cooper said the people her group represents were already among the most vulnerable in Canada before the pandemic struck, doubly disadvantaged as Indigenous people living without the supports they would be eligible for if they lived on a reserve.
"We know there are families struggling [at] home with domestic violence. We know there are families that are homeless," said Cooper. "These are community members that need our support."
Cooper said on a per capita basis, the emergency funding offered by the federal government would work out to less than $3 for each of the 90,000 off-reserve Indigenous people represented by the congress, which has said it will return the funding.
"That is not even enough to buy milk," said Cooper. "That's not enough to help with, you know housing and shelters and keeping them connected to the community."
Cooper said for now, the council is spending from its administration budget and from fishing revenues to try to support members.
Support programs suspended
Lynn Bradley, director of mental health and addictions programs for the council, said regular weekly outreach sessions through the Native Council of P.E.I. had to be discontinued once the pandemic struck and remain suspended.
"That's been hard for some of my clients who depended on that programming just to help get them through the day, to help them feel connected," said Bradley.
The weekly meetings were also a way to make sure people were fed, said Bradley. "So a lot of people who are lower-income families don't have that extra food."
Bradley said the council is doing what it can to respond to individual requests for food, traditional medicine and other support.
Bradley said the pandemic has exacerbated all these challenges among households that were already in need, leading to relapses in cases of mental health and addictions.
Tents & sleeping bags for the homeless
But overall she said the most urgent need in the community right now is for housing — a need which she said wasn't always able to be met by emergency shelters and provincial housing programs.
"We've had tents and sleeping bags that we've brought down to the community outreach centre, so that our community members at least have that," said Bradley.
She said one elder got frostbite on his face because he sleeps outdoors.