Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald is shown at Queen's Park in Toronto on Tuesday, June 4, 2019. The Assembly of First Nations is planning to urge the federal Liberal government to do more to deal with the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on their communities in a virtual version of its annual general assembly. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Canada ‘must build back better’ for Indigenous People after COVID-19: Bellegarde

Canada ‘must build back better’ for Indigenous People after COVID-19: Bellegarde

OTTAWA — Canada must invest in closing the gap for Indigenous people as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the outgoing head of the Assembly of First Nations said Tuesday.

“That gap amplifies every threat and every harm from this pandemic, from the risk of infection to the stress of lockdown,” National Chief Perry Bellegarde said in remarks to the virtual general assembly of the national political advocacy organization he has led since 2014.

“It is a rift that is both deep and wide. And it’s been carved by decades and centuries of racism, discrimination and indifference.”

It also denies Indigenous People access to quality health care and forces families to live in overcrowded and unhealthy homes, he added, which is one way the COVID-19 pandemic risks making the socio-economic inequity for First Nations worse than before.

Bellegarde also said reconciliation will not happen without a transformational change to keep Indigenous people safe, guarantee a better future for their children and protect the environment.

“We must try to replace fear and distrust with a common purpose to build a better, stronger, and more resilient and a more tolerant Canada,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the chiefs that he understands their concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the already dire circumstances in which too many First Nations people live.

“I hear you when you say that the status quo isn’t good enough,” Trudeau said.

“If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that there is much more to be done.”

Trudeau renewed his commitment to lift all long-standing boil-water advisories without providing a specific date.

He took questions from the chiefs about housing, health care and the safety of Indigenous communities during the pandemic, and said he’d pass most of them on to Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.

He was also asked about gaps in funding programs. He said the issue needs to be addressed by working with Indigenous communities because they know best how to connect the streams of money in the right way.

“These are all things that we need to work on together and folks in Ottawa don’t always know how they best fit together,” Trudeau said.

“You are best positioned to, to know and say exactly what the plan is to fit everything together and set your community on the right path for the long term.”

Bellegarde, who announced Monday he is not seeking re-election next year, said he wants to focus on advocating for Indigenous people at this critical time.

“Our team at the AFN will continue to advocate for access to the resources or communities that they all need to manage this crisis,” he said.

The election to name a new national chief will be held virtually in Toronto next July.

During this week’s virtual assembly, the AFN is planning to urge the federal Liberal government to do more to deal with the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Indigenous communities.

Chiefs are also set to discuss, among other things, whether they will support legislation the Liberal government introduced this week that would ensure Canadian law is in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald said the pandemic has hit First Nations communities hard, but they have also long dealt with inequitable treatment in Canada.

She said Canada has an opportunity to take big steps towards improving the situation through programs, services and funding as the country rebuilds its economy.

“Chronic underfunding of First Nations is … very evident when you look at First Nations health status right now and why we have such high rates of COVID-19,” she said.

The AFN meeting was originally scheduled to take place in Halifax this summer but was put off due to COVID-19.

Yukon Regional Chief Kluane Adamek said some Indigenous communities don’t have broadband internet and they will have to call in by phone to participate in the meeting.

“This is the first time we’re doing this, so there’s no doubt that there’s going to be some challenges and glitches,” she said.

She said one resolution calls for an end to gender-based discrimination within the AFN, which represents more than 600 First Nations in Canada, to help the group lead the way in advancing gender equity.

The organization is expected to create a First Nations veterans’ council to promote the recognition of contributions of Indigenous military and RCMP veterans in Canada through education and to develop and maintain a database of First Nations veterans.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2020.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Town of Ponoka and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) have ratified a new agreement, averting a strike. (File photo from Facebook)
Alberta gov’t ‘using pandemic as shield to lay off workers,’ says AUPE

The Government of Alberta’s “attacks on workers” is continuing with a new… Continue reading

Rocky Mountain House RCMP, EMS, Search and Rescue, STARS air ambulance and Alstrom Helicopters worked together to rescue a fallen ice climber Friday. (Photo contributed by Rocky Mountain House RCMP)
Rocky Mountain House RCMP help rescue fallen ice climber

Rocky Mountain RCMP helped assist a fallen ice climber Friday afternoon. At… Continue reading

Students Association of Red Deer College president Brittany Lausen says she’s pleased the college is offering students a choice to attend class in-person or remotely. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Red Deer College winter term enrolment dips

Enrolment down about six per cent but mix of online and in-person instruction is going over well

Brett Salomons, of Salomons Commercial, and Mark Jones, CEO of the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre, in the CACAC's new temporary home. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre’s One Day Challenge returns

Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre has announced its One Day Challenge is… Continue reading

Dwayne Buckle, 40 of Red Deer finished a 1,638-kilometre walk, in honour of his family. The 12-week, 82 day-journey wrapped up in Port Hardy, B.C. on Monday. Facebook photo
Red Deer man completes 1,638 km hike for cancer research

Dwayne Buckle, a Red Deer firefighter returned home Friday after his 12-week journey

A Suncor logo is shown at the company's annual meeting in Calgary, Thursday, May 2, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Body of worker whose bulldozer fell through ice on inactive tailings pond recovered

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Oilpatch giant Suncor says the body of a… Continue reading

A restaurant manager in Orlando used a sign to secretly ask an 11-year-old boy if he needs help from his family after they were spotted withholding food from him. (Photo courtesy Orlando Police Department)
WATCH: Restaurant manager uses secret note to ‘rescue’ child, says Orlando Police

The manager of an Orlando restaurant is receiving praise from police after… Continue reading

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will cripple struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

VICTORIA — A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Quebec and Ontario, the two provinces hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic,… Continue reading

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police "E" Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. A young snowshoer who set out alone on a rugged mountain trail on Vancouver's north shore Thursday has died. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Snowshoer dies after overnight search on Vancouver-area mountain: RCMP

SQUAMISH, B.C. — A snowshoer who set out alone on a rugged… Continue reading

‘It was joyous:’ Sun returns to some Nunavut communities for first time in weeks

IQALUIT — A sliver of orange rose over Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, earlier… Continue reading

People take photos through the extensive security surrounding the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, ahead of the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Susan Walsh
Less pomp, very different circumstances as D.C. prepares to inaugurate Biden, Harris

WASHINGTON — Some pomp. Very different circumstances. Inauguration day is supposed to… Continue reading

Winnipeg Jets' Nathan Beaulieu (88) and Nikolaj Ehlers (27) defend against Jansen Harkins (12) during scrimmage at their NHL training camp practice in Winnipeg, Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Winnipeg Jets cancel practice due to possible COVID-19 exposure

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets have cancelled their practice today due to… Continue reading

Most Read