Today, Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government will be committing an additional $205.6 million in funding for Indigenous peoples and communities to support them through COVID-19, with the bulk of new funding going to education and child care.
“Indigenous Peoples and communities continue to face unique challenges during the pandemic,” said Trudeau. “We will continue to listen to them, and ensure that students, children, parents, and communities have the support they need to keep safe and healthy and properly respond to this crisis.”
Friday’s announcement adds an additional $59 million for on-reserve infrastructure, $25.9 million for post-secondary education and $120.7 million for early learning and childcare facilities.
According to Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, the federal government has committed over two billion dollars so far to help Indigenous people and communities weather the COVID-19 pandemic, including $685 million dedicated to the Indigenous Community Support Fund.
The largest portion of the new funding will go towards childcare and early childhood education. Representatives of the Canadian government stressed the importance of supporting Indigenous children throughout the pandemic.
“This pandemic has been particularly hard on children and youth of all ages,” said Miller. “We must ensure that they get the necessary support to be able to learn and thrive in a safe environment.”
This is not the first time that the federal government has introduced COVID-19 funding for First Nations education. Along with the Indigenous Community Support Fund, the federal government dedicated $75.2 million for Indigenous post-secondary students in April and $112 million to on-reserve schools in August.
According to a statement from the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Ahmed Hussen, “access to safe, high-quality and culturally relevant early learning and child care programs is essential to the recovery of Indigenous communities from COVID-19.”
Reed Allan, the principal of the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw School, an independent First Nations elementary school on the Tsulquate Reserve in Port Hardy, says that he has not seen very much funding so far.
“We are always happy to hear there’s more funding for COVID related initiatives, but you know we’ve only sort of received, thus far, a few small pots of money,” said Allan. “[We] haven’t really been able to do too much.”
He says that the funding they have received so far has gone towards purchasing protective equipment such as masks, and installing hand sanitizer stations throughout the school. He believes that the largest costs throughout the year will come from replacing teachers who have called in sick.
“Our biggest challenge is staffing,” says Allan. “We’re being more cautious in terms of staff sickness and illness so you know we’re finding that people can’t come to work… The cost for us, just to replace people, I’m envisioning is going to go up.”
According to a press release about the funding, the money for early learning and childcare will assist communities in implementing enhanced cleaning protocols, hiring additional staff, and offering training.
Bayleigh Marelj, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse