Canada to spend $306M on Indigenous businesses struggling amid coronavirus pandemic

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Saturday the federal government will spend $306.8 million to help Indigenous businesses affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The money will give Indigenous businesses access to short-term interest-free loans and non-repayable contributions, Trudeau told reporters.

It comes in addition to the $305 million in funding announced last week aimed at helping Indigenous communities prepare and react to the spread of the virus.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Indigenous minister says cases still low on reserves, but danger high

“Today’s investment will help thousands of businesses bridge to better times, including many that are owned and run by Indigenous women,” he said.

“These businesses employ people right across the country, in small communities and big cities alike. They create good jobs in a whole range of sectors. So when we support them, we’re supporting families and workers too.”

The funding will be provided through Aboriginal financial institutions and administered by the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association.

“It will get easier, but until it does, we need to be prepared to persevere,” he said.

2:06Coronavirus outbreak: Officials praise funding for Indigenous businesses, say they are ‘backbones of communities’ across Canada
Coronavirus outbreak: Officials praise funding for Indigenous businesses, say they are ‘backbones of communities’ across Canada

There have been calls for the government to help Indigenous communities across Canada, who are among the country’s most vulnerable and ill-equipped to handle widespread contagion.

Ontario’s former regional chief Isadore Day launched a petition urging the federal government to mobilize resources and troops to First Nations communities.

“Many Indigenous communities experience poverty, overcrowding, food and water insecurity, and lack adequate access to healthcare and there is a higher rate of chronic disease,” the petition read. “All of this increases risk of severe COVID-19.”

By Saturday afternoon, the petition had amassed more than 17,000 signatures.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Trudeau announces $130 million to help Canada’s northern communities

As of Saturday, Indigenous Services Canada said they were aware of 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on First Nations reserves, including 27 in Quebec, 14 in Ontario, six in British Columbia and five in Saskatchewan. One person has died.

To this, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told reporters that while the government was grateful for the low number of cases to-date, he advised against easing lockdown restrictions, adding that 550 orders of personal protective equipment were shipped to Indigenous communities.

“This is a function of a number of things, notably remoteness of the communities, some of the aggressive measures taken by the leadership, medical and political communities learning from the experience and being in a position to take active what’s going on across the globe,” he said.

He noted First Nation-owned businesses, in particular, were facing unique challenges, such as being in rural or remote locations and having less access to capital.

1:36Indigenous communities prepare for COVID-19
Indigenous communities prepare for COVID-19

“These businesses are the backbone of communities across this country, and they are integral to the vibrancy of the Indigenous content economy and the Canadian economy,” he said.

“While larger Indigenous businesses may already be clients of mainstream banks, we recognize that smaller Indigenous businesses may be disproportionately affected by this unprecedented and unique situation.”

He also recommended First Nations leaders postpone their elections for at least six months to delay the spread of COVID-19 among communities, but said the federal government would respect Indigenous right to self-determination should they choose to proceed.

“I want to be clear: the final decision to hold or postpone elections ultimately lies with community leadership, and we must respect that,” Miller said.

READ MORE: 82 First Nations on lockdown as B.C. records first COVID-19 cases in Indigenous communities

“Should communities decide to proceed with elections as scheduled, we stand ready to provide advice on measures to minimize the risk of spreading the virus to community members.”

In March, Miller sent out a letter requesting Indigenous leaders across the country delay their spring elections, which are set to happen within the next three months.

“We’ve been in direct communication about this option with communities who are currently or will soon be undergoing the election process,” said Miller. “I encourage communities to avail themselves of this option.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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