Indigenous Services working to streamline pandemic aid process, says minister
Manitoba chiefs raised issue of 'cumbersome request processes,' says Patty Hajdu
Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) approved more than $1.1 million in emergency funding to Bearskin Lake First Nation during the last week of December and the first week of January to help deal with its COVID-19 outbreak, Minister Patty Hajdu said in a news conference Thursday.
The funding is to help with things like PPE, prevention supplies, food security, wages for community-based workers, security personnel and other pandemic-related costs.
The First Nation in northern Ontario has been overwhelmed by a COVID-19 outbreak. In the last two weeks, more than 200 people have tested positive for the virus in the community of roughly 400 people located 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.
"The Indigenous Community Support Fund is an accessible and flexible stream of funding that can rapidly provide financial support for communities to prevent or respond to COVID outbreaks," said Hajdu.
"Every First Nations community is eligible, and I encourage communities to reach out to the department if they need additional support."
Hajdu said she has met with chiefs from Manitoba who asked ISC to address barriers in accessing the funding.
"They are asking that we reduce, as much as we can, any cumbersome request processes," said Hajdu.
"My officials heard the calls for this deficiency and we're working on ways we can streamline processes even further."
Dr. Tom Wong, ISC's chief medical officer of public health, said the number of cases on First Nations is likely being underreported due to testing limitations but that so far they are seeing fewer hospitalizations from Omicron than previous variants.
"At this point thus far, we are not seeing signals of increasing hospitalization rate based on per case. Out of every 100 cases, we are seeing less than other variants on the risk of hospitalizations," said Wong.
Wong added it is still important to protect the most vulnerable people in Indigenous communities.
Ongoing outbreak in Sandy Bay
The community of Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation, 130 kilometres north of Winnipeg, has been dealing with an ongoing outbreak linked to the Delta variant since mid-October.
Sandy Bay, which has 4,500 members living there, currently has 70 active cases of COVID-19, six people in hospital and one person in ICU.
Councillor Randal Roulette said the band has recently accessed funding from ISC for security personnel.
"They have been good at flowing the money efficiently … and we have been able to do some things to try and slow down the spread, to keep the community healthy."
Roulette said the biggest challenge for Sandy Bay is the housing situation.
"We have a population of 4,500 people and there's only 650 homes in the community," said Roulette.
"If you get a house with 10 people that live in the house, the entire house gets hit with COVID, so easily you start seeing double digit numbers in our COVID infections."
While the community has yet to record any cases linked to Omicron, Roulette said they are still expecting an increase in case numbers from holiday gatherings.
- A previous version of this story said Indigenous Services Canada had approved more than $1.1 million in emergency funding to First Nations dealing with COVID-19 during the last week of December and the first week of January. In fact, $1.1 million in emergency funding was approved for Bearskin Lake First Nation.Jan 14, 2022 1:44 PM ET