June 2, 2021 — Ottawa, Traditional unceded Algonquin Territory, Ontario — Indigenous Services Canada

The news of the remains of 215 children found in the area around the former Kamloops Indian Residential School is a painful reminder of the harms families and Survivors have suffered and continue to suffer. We are profoundly saddened by this discovery and our thoughts are with Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, as well as with all other affected First Nations in British Columbia and with Indigenous Peoples across Canada. We are working with the community and partners, such as the BC First Nations Health Authority, to provide the resources and support needed, as determined by the community. Flags on the Peace Tower in Ottawa and on all Government of Canada buildings and establishments across the country are being flown at half-mast until further notice. The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide emotional and crisis referral services to former residential school students. It is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419. All Indigenous Peoples can access the Hope for Wellness Help Line at www.hopeforwellness.ca or by phoning 1-855-242-3310.

June marks the beginning of National Indigenous History Month, a month where we shine a light on the history, heritage and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis in Canada. The tragic discovery of children’s remains last week near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School unveils a difficult truth, reminding us of the importance of this month. This week, across the country, Canadians are paying their respects to the memories of the victims of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. We honour the thousands of children who were sent to residential schools, those who never returned and the families whose lives were forever changed by the violence brought upon them by residential schools.

Canada must continue to face its colonialist legacy and continue its journey toward meaningful and enduring reconciliation. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed, once again, the persistent socioeconomic and health disparities experienced by Indigenous Peoples that have resulted from this legacy of ongoing racism and discrimination.

The Government of Canada remains committed to taking an equity approach to the COVID-19 response, including by prioritizing Indigenous Peoples across Canada—regardless of where they live—for vaccine administration. As the federal lead in the pandemic response specific to Indigenous communities, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) will remain steadfast in offering direct support to communities in leading public health and social measures. ISC also appreciates the collaborative efforts of many Indigenous organizations, as well as of provincial and territorial governments.

Vaccination has reached an important milestone, with more than three-quarters of the adults in First Nations, Inuit and territorial communities having received at least one vaccine dose and 43% having received a second dose. Indigenous leadership, including the guidance offered by Elders, Grandmothers and Knowledge Keepers, has been central in promoting vaccine confidence and uptake, as well as ensuring that people have the information and resources needed to stay healthy and combat COVID-19. The resilience and hard work of communities—despite the many challenges faced throughout the pandemic—are important to recognize.

While the vaccine results are encouraging, Indigenous communities will be making measured decisions on the easing of public health measures. At an individual level, it remains essential that everyone follow these measures to keep our loved ones, our communities and ourselves safe. This includes minimizing in-person interactions with people outside your immediate household, avoiding crowded places, wearing a mask and washing your hands frequently.

In First Nations communities, as of June 1, ISC is aware of

  • 29,865 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases
  • 700 active cases
  • 28,822 recovered cases
  • 343 deaths.

There are no active cases in the Northwest Territories. As of June 1, the Government of Nunavut is reporting 9 active cases of COVID-19 in Iqaluit.

The Canadian Armed Forces recently completed helping vaccination teams in First Nations communities in Northern Manitoba.

Canadian Rangers are currently activated in Lac Seul First Nation, Attawapiskat First Nation, Fort Albany First Nation and Kashechewan in Ontario to provide assistance with COVID-19 response efforts in these communities.

Canadian Rangers are also activated in many communities across the country as Sentinels to help identify emerging demands.

As of June 1, 2021, more than 27,955,492 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed across the country. As of June 1, 508,883 vaccine doses have been administered to adults in 687 First Nations, Inuit and territorial communities. Based on Statistics Canada’s 2020 population projections, over 79% of adults in First Nations communities and adults living in the territories have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

In most provinces and territories, Indigenous people aged 12 and older are currently eligible to register for their first vaccine dose. Different approaches are being implemented across the country, including home-based, school-based, family-based and drive-thru clinics to reach households and support uptake. Many provinces and territories are pushing to expedite the delivery of the first dose to the population aged 12 and older, for example, in Yukon, clinics administering first doses to youth have been open since May 31 in Faro and Ross River and since June 1 in Whitehorse.

While this past week has been another powerful reminder of the long distance we must still travel together as a country to reconcile with our past and our present, the Government of Canada will continue to listen and act in support of strengthening Indigenous self-determination so that these harms can never recur.

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Author: Editor
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