FREDERICTON – At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned that Indigenous communities would face disproportionate risks from the virus. Limited access to health care in remote regions, substandard housing, poverty and underlying health conditions are among the issues of concern.
Green Party caucus critic for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Indigenous Services, Jenica Atwin (MP, Fredericton) notes that historic underfunding and institutional racism have left Indigenous communities particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
“The challenges Indigenous communities are facing are complex and varied. There is no one-size-fits-all solution," said Atwin. "What is clear is that the administration of relief programs and government aid needs to be Indigenous-informed and -led. This must include adequate and sustained funding for Friendship Centres and Native Women's Centres as key service providers. The $15M announced by the Federal government so far is totally inadequate. And First Nations communities must be funded, informed, and empowered to protect their membership."
The Coalition for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples recently stated that where Indigenous communities have required suspension of certain activities in their territories, restricting access of workers, tourists, cottagers, and others, this must be respected. However, work on projects such as Coastal GasLink (CGL), the Site C dam, LNG Canada and the Trans Mountain pipeline(TMX) continues, with employees being flown in and out, despite requests by local Indigenous communities to cease these activities. Workers, housed in close quarter on-site camps, pose a serious health risk to nearby Indigenous populations.
Lorraine Rekmans, Green Party shadow cabinet critic for Indigenous Affairs, noted the legal nature of Indigenous people’s rights in Canada: “This includes a commitment to free, prior and informed consent on any actions that impact Indigenous communities,” said Rekmans. “Canada’s priority must be to work in partnership with communities to protect Indigenous citizens from any risk, including the risk of community transmission from workers who are entering Indigenous territories.”
Green Party Interim Leader Jo-Ann Roberts added: “Not only do we need to respect the authority of Indigenous communities over their territory now, but we need to ensure that they are at the centre of decision-making and planning as Canada rebuilds, and the global economy starts rolling again in the coming weeks and months. Indigenous peoples must no longer be treated as an afterthought in Canadian decision making.”
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