What Is The Indigenous Community Support Fund?

The Indigenous Community Support Fund is the Federal Government’s assistance plan for Indigenous governments. Also known as “the Fund,” it was initiated in March to help Indigenous organizations and communities providing services to Indigenous peoples prevent, prepare and respond to COVID-19.[1]

$685 million dollars has been earmarked for elder support, food insecurity, educational aid for children, and mental-health assistance on and off reserves. From the Fund, specific amounts are allocated to First Nations based on factors including population, remoteness, and well-being.  Inuit, Metis as well as regional and urban Indigenous organizations are also eligible to receive funding.[2][3]

How Does The Indigenous Community Support Fund Work?

When it comes to accessing the funds, most Indigenous governments across Canada will be utilizing existing mechanisms that don’t require further application through Indigenous Services Canada for instance. Applications follow what is known as a “distinctions-based approach,” meaning that distinct responses are needed for the specific needs of different First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities.

The Federal Government defends this approach as a way to improve the public health response to provide Indigenous communities with the flexibility they need to address the specific needs identified by communities and their members.[4] Distinctions-based funding was intended to correct Canada’s previous policies, with their  “one size fits all” approach to Indigenous funding and decision-making. [5]

However, distinctions-based approaches have been very controversial in the past, and the Fund is no different. For one, the “distinctions” used are not recognized by the United Nations as ones that qualify under international law, and some argue that the process erases the sovereignty and inherent jurisdictions of pre-existing, modern, and future Indigenous nations in Canada. 

Further, as these distinctions weren’t made by consulting with every group affected by them, large gaps exist, especially among urban Indigenous voices and perspectives.[6]

What’s Covered By The Fund?

As it’s distinctions-based, funds are allocated based on the needs identified. One area identified is the education sector.  Like other school boards throughout Ontario, First Nations require funds to help reopen schools in their community safely.  But as the need for pandemic protocols has extended, the process of returning children safely to their schools has inevitably slowed where safety protocols needs were not correctly predicted and the funds available have not been adequate to meet these needs. [7]

The urban Indigenous population has also been significantly affected by this pandemic. On September 15, 2020 the Government of Canada announced that it would provide funding for Indigenous organizations in London to address the critical needs of urban Indigenous Peoples living off-reserve during the pandemic.[8] One wonders why, after six months of the existence of the Indigenous Community Support Fund, it took so long for the Government to address, even in part, the needs of this vulnerable population.

Inadequate and delayed social responses to COVID-19 have exacerbated the intergenerational trauma in Indigenous communities caused by residential schools, the child welfare system, and other systematic issues. While the Indigenous Community Support Fund is helping to address the heightened vulnerabilities of 2020, it is evident much work still needs to be done.

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