| Update

Prepared by:  Madanpreet Kaur, Policy Researcher  December 2020 

Indigenous communities are a historically disadvantaged vulnerable group in Canada. First Nation reserves were disproportionately affected by the Spanish flu in 1918 and the H1N1 Influenza pandemic in 2009. Lack of access to proper health care facilities, housing, unemployment and poverty, food and water insecurity creates an environment that could make combating Covid-19 in Indigenous communities difficult. The Government has taken active measures to control the spread in the form of various fundings and programs. Although these temporary fundings may help mitigate the current pandemic, these may not be enough to fix these long-standing issues.

The Current Situation

The infection rates on reserves were relatively low during the first months of the pandemic compared to the general public. As of November 30, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) has shared 3,989 confirmed COVID-19 cases on First Nation Reserves, with 2,385 as the total recovered cases. There are 1,562 active cases with 162 hospitalizations and 34 deaths. Regional data by ISC shows that Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have seen a significant rise in the number of cases during the second wave.

Other important statistics shared by the Government reveal,

  • The percentage of First Nations individuals living on reserve reported positive for COVID-19 is currently one-half the rate of the general Canadian population
  • The COVID-19 case fatality rate for First Nations individuals living on reserve is about one-fifth that of the fatality rate in the general Canadian population
  • More than 61% of those testing positive for COVID-19 have recovered

How has the Canadian government responded?

As of October 30, the Government of Canada has committed over $2.4 billion in specific support of Indigenous and Northern communities, including student benefits, early learning and child care facilities, and community support funds.

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) is actively shipping orders for PPE, including hand sanitizers, N95 masks, isolation shields, and gloves to First Nations communities. By the end of September, ISC, in partnership with communities, had

  • distributed more than 230,000 swab samples for COVID-19 testing at First Nations nursing stations and health centres and processed 48,554 swab tests since April 1, 2020
  • deployed over 600 health care workers to support First Nations communities
  • funded 163 mobile structures to support the surge infrastructure needs of communities for treatment, self-isolation testing or screening

ISC has taken steps to ensure pandemic plans follow best practices. It has shared Covid-19 public service announcements in 20 Indigenous languages for radio broadcasting.

The Government of Canada has allocated $1 billion to address the urgent housing needs of vulnerable communities through rapid construction of affordable housing. The Rapid Housing Initiative aims to create up to 3000 permanent housing units and ensure availability of units within 12 months of the agreement.

Policy Recommendations

Keeping in mind the devastating effects Indigenous communities have faced during previous pandemics and the factors that make them more susceptible to these outbreaks, it is recommended that, 

  1. Targeted and tailored approach should be taken by the Government of Canada to deal with the rising cases during this second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, as it is re-emerging as a regional epidemic.
  2. An advisory committee should be set up, including members of the Indigenous communities, to address specific issues and needs pertaining to different Indigenous groups.
  3. There is a need for regular and prioritised monitoring of the spread and control of Covid-19 in Indigenous communities to mitigate the challenge effectively.

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