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COVID-19 Does Not Discriminate — But Oppressive Systems Do.

Since March of 2020, COVID-19 has affected almost 850,000 Canadians, ranging from young to old, any gender, race, or socioeconomic class. The COVID-19 virus does not discriminate against anyone — but oppressive systems do as they make individuals more susceptible to contracting the virus.

This is seen through the significant rise in Indigenous peoples' positive cases since the pandemic's height. The Government of Canada reports that Indigenous peoples are at high risk for contracting the deadly virus. As a Province, 75% presumed in Manitoba are First Nations peoples (18% positivity rate). And the Minister of Indigenous Services, Marc Miller, points fingers to the unjust social factors that make Indigenous peoples more susceptible to contracting the virus — such as lack of clean water, overcrowding in housing, and overlining health conditions. As vaccines begin to roll out to communities, it is a continued reminder that oppressive systems have more than surface-level impacts.

Water is Life.

Washing our hands is one of the most recommended preventions for the spread of COVID-19. Yet, Indigenous peoples have long been advocating against the water-related problems impacting reservations, like unsafe drinking water and lack of proper sewage systems. Across Canada, 57 First Nations reservations have water advisories, 15 of which are in Manitoba.

Canada has pledged to reduce all long-term water advisories on reservations by March of this year. But in September, the liberal government presented their fierce action plan to make a "stronger and more resilient Canada." Although many essential targets were set — there was no mention of proper water systems for reservations.

Housing.

Keeping yourself isolated and socially distancing the recommended six feet is another crucial guidance for protecting yourself and others during the pandemic. But socioeconomic factors play a critical role in exposing individuals, such as overcrowding of on-reserve housing, which is a springboard for individuals to pass the virus between one another.

In May of 2020, The Southern Chiefs' Organization in southern Manitoba declared a state of emergency because of the housing crisis for Indigenous peoples. Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said those communities did not have the proper supplies to respond to the pandemic, such as "chronic overcrowding," and that urgency was needed.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer stated in a new report that Winnipeg leads in an Indigenous housing crisis compared to all other metropolitan cities in Canada. It is estimated that 9000 Indigenous households need housing in the Province's capital. Health Inequalities.

Indigenous peoples also face a higher prevalence of health problems, meaning they are at greater risk for contracting COVID-19. For example, diabetes extends an individual’s risk for testing positive — and is a common illness amongst Indigenous peoples in Canada. Diabetes is linked to poverty.

If an Indigenous person were to test positive for COVID-19 and need medical assistance, there is an extended history of ill-equipped care and discriminatory practices for Indigenous peoples. Discrimination by health providers is another considerable barrier facing this community. A study conducted by the College of Family Physicians of Canada found that 79% of Indigenous populations surveyed have experienced racism from some health service type. This discrimination has caused many life-altering impacts, one being death.

Not to mention, several of the Province's northern reservations are only accessible by airplane — a huge barrier if community members need healthcare in more urbanized areas.

Efforts by Government.

In May of 2020, $75 million was granted to urban and off-reserve organizations. But this was after the Congress for Aboriginal Peoples filed a federal court application, "Over Inadequate and Discriminatory Funding During COVID-19".

In October, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that over $200 million would be granted to support Indigenous peoples during the pandemic. Broken down, the funding will be disrupted towards resources such as $120 million directed towards early Indigenous learning and child care facilities, $59 million for on-reserve community infrastructure, and the remaining $25.9 million towards Indigenous post-secondary institutions.

Individuals who identify as Indigenous make up roughly 5% of Canada's population, with over 1.6 million people. Theoretically, this is less than $200 per person if every First Nations individual were to be aided by this funding.

"Indigenous peoples and communities continue to face unique challenges during the pandemic. We will continue to listen to them, and ensure that students, children, parents, and communities have the support they need to keep safe and healthy and properly respond to this crisis." said Trudeau.

In November, in a series of tweets Indigenous Services Minister, Marc Miller, penned "In light of the alarming rise in COVID-19 cases in Manitoba, Indigenous Services Canada, in partnership with Manitoba First Nations, is immediately providing $61.4 million in additional surge capacity funding to fight the virus in a number of key areas,"

As well, the vaccine lines are increasing by the day on reservations as Manitoba continues its age-based roll-out system. In which elders and individuals under 20 are prioritized for the vaccines, other age groups to follow.

Supplies are being transported to communities as well — a hefty mask disruption was sent to Indigenous communities in Manitoba in February. The Government of Canada will also send $12 million worth of "air services" to remote areas. The Manitoban government will then be in charge of allocating funding to ensure the continued supply of COVID-related necessities, like medical supplies, food, and other vital services.

Looking Forward.

Temporary solutions will not fill the gaps for decades of oppression. As our license plates coin us, we are 'Friendly Manitoba.' Let this be a constant reminder to be kind to one another — and remember that COVID-19 is not an individual fight but a collective one. Wear your mask, social distance, and keep advocating for systems that benefit us all.

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