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The Rise of Covid-19 Cases within the Indigenous Community

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

Policy Brief by Arianna Bowman

This piece is part of Kroeger Policy Review's first issue on Race, Religion, and Culture. The full issue is available here.


As of November 4, the are 1610 reported cases of COVID-19 within Indigenous communities across Canada, 500 of which are currently active (1). This recent spike raises concerns about the adequacy of the pandemic support for Indigenous peoples and serves to highlight a greater trend of socio-economic neglect.

The Challenges of COVID-19 for Indigenous Communities

Indigenous communities are “nearly three times as likely to be living in extreme poverty,” leaving them disproportionally at risk to COVID-19 (2). Indigenous people are more likely to be suffering from poverty-related health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease, malnutrition, and immune suppressive conditions, making them more susceptible to disease (3). Moreover, these conditions also leave them at high risk, making the fallout of a COVID-19 infection far more likely to require hospitalization (4). Pandemic guidelines such as handwashing and physical distancing are also much harder to follow on reserves, where socio-economic inequalities persist. For instance, across Canada, there are over 100 drinking water advisories in Indigenous communities (5), and a lack of funding has left many reserves with overcrowded, sub-par housing (6). Indigenous peoples within urban settings are no better off, as they overrepresent the homeless population (7).

Current Government Measures

To combat the current issues facing indigenous communities, the Government of Canada announced on October 3 that it would be allocating $200 million towards Indigenous communities and their fight against COVID-19. This is in addition to the $2.2 billion previously allocated. Much of the new $200 million will be funding daycare centers, intended to help improve staff training and the cleanliness of the facilities. $60 million will be going to improving community buildings and $26 million will be going to Indigenous schools (8).

Of the original $2.2 billion, $685 million has gone to the Indigenous Community Support Fund, which provides Aboriginal, Métis and Inuit communities with funding to support food security, education and any other issues that may have arisen due to COVID-19 (9). Another $650 million has gone specifically to help these communities combat the pandemic (10).

Impact of Pandemic Measures and the Path Forward

For a time, the original funding allocated to support Indigenous peoples during the pandemic had worked, enabling Indigenous communities to shape their own strategies of how they would face COVID-19. From March to September, the number of active Indigenous cases never passed 100 (11). However, now, with the second wave of the pandemic well underway in Canada, many Indigenous leaders have voiced their concerns over their communities’ capacity to continue responding effectively.

Marlene Poitras, a member of the Mikisew Cree First Nations, and the Assembly of First Nations regional chief in Alberta spoke about how the lack of investment in communities prior to the pandemic has left them vulnerable. The fact that so much money is being spent now just highlights the neglect they have been shown in the past. While she welcomes the new funding, she reiterates the fact that due to the rampant inequality that exists within every aspect of this country, from healthcare to economy to politics, this will not be enough (12). Funding needs to continue until the end of the pandemic, but more needs to be done afterwards to address the socio-economic problems that allowed it to get this bad in the first place.

  1. “COVID-19 in Indigenous communities: active cases reach 500,” CBC News, November 04, 2020.

  2. Anne Nuorgam, “MESSAGE FROM THE CHAIR OF THE PERMANENT FORUM ON INDIGENOUS ISSUES TO ENSURE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES ARE INFORMED, PROTECTED AND PRIORITIZED DURING THE GLOBAL COVID-19 PANDEMIC,” Indigenous Peoples and Development Branch/ Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, April 2020. content/uploads/sites/34/2020/04/UNPFII-Chair-statement_COVID19.pdf.

  3. Ibid

  4. Ibid

  5. “Safe Water for First Nations,” The Council of Canadians, 2018.

  6. Thompson, Shirley, Marleny M. Bonnycastle, and Stewart Hill. “COVID-19, First Nations and Poor Housing.” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, May 20, 2020.

  7. Orkin, Jessica R. “COVID -19 and Outbreaks in Toronto’s Shelter System.” Aboriginal Legal Services, April 20, 2020. toronto-shelter-system.pdf.

  8. “Ottawa unveils more pandemic support for Indigenous communities,” CBC News, October 30, 2020.

  9. Indigenous Services Canada, “Indigenous Community Support Fund,” Government of Canada, October 30, 2020.

  10. “Ottawa unveils more pandemic support for Indigenous communities,” CBC News, October 30, 2020.

  11. Indigenous Services Canada, “Epidemiological summary of COVID-19 cases in First Nations communities,” Government of Canada, October 30, 2020. https://www.sac

  12. Maan Alhmidi, “More funding needed to address inequalities harming COVID-19 response, AFN chief says,” CBC News, November 3, 2020. indigenous-covid-19-response-afn-1.5788228.


Indigenous resources on this topic:

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