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

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

Vaccinations are set to resume in the small community of Tatchet, according to Lake Babine Nation’s Deputy Chief. (Black Press Media file photo)
Lake Babine Nation vaccine rollout resumes after a short pause

A COVID positive test within the care team had put the vaccinations on hold

Cheslatta Chief Corrina Leween received one of the COVID-19 vaccines on the Southside, on Wednesday, Jan. 13. (Submitted/Lakes District News)
COVID-19 vaccination begins in Burns Lake

Senior population, health care workers and First Nations among the first to get the vaccine

Sasquatch sighting. (Omineca Ski Club photo/Lakes District News)
Sasquatch on the loose at Omineca Ski Club

Head out to the trails to see if you can spot it; a tongue-in-cheek response from the club President

Two books in particular became quite popular at the start of the pandemic — Soap and Water Common Sense, The definitive guide to viruses’ bacteria, parasites, and disease and The Great Influenza, The story of the deadliest pandemic in history. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)
Burns Lake Public Library lent 20,916 books in 2020

Gained 67 new patrons throughout the year

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Canada released proposed regulations Jan. 2 for the fisheries minister to maintain Canada’s major fish stocks at sustainable levels and recover those at risk. (File photo)
New laws would cement DFO accountability to depleted fish stocks

Three B.C. salmon stocks first in line for priority attention under proposed regulations

Trees destroyed a Shoreacres home during a wind storm Jan. 13, 2021. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay woman flees just before tree crushes house

Pamala DeRosa is thankful to be alive

Most Read