By Breanne Massey
Special to the Pioneer
With $306 million in financial aid donated to First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities from the Trudeau government to assist the needy during the COVID-19 pandemic, a mere 12.5 per cent of the financial aid awarded to the Métis National Council (MNC) has recently become available to Métis citizens within the province of B.C..
However, Métis citizens within the Columbia Valley community have forged ahead with some help thanks to support from local leadership and community groups.
Debra Fisher, president of the Columbia Valley Métis Association (CVMA) who acts solely as a volunteer to the appointment, and the local board have been busily reviewing and processing applications for emergency response financial aid during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, thanks to Columbia Basin Trust’s (CBT) latest community program geared toward supporting vulnerable populations with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Each province gets only so much (financial aid). Of course, we’re not happy with that,” Fisher explained about the support being offered to Métis communities through the federal government.
However, the Métis Nation of BC (MNBC) is currently reviewing financial aid intended to support those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic, and MNBC has been dispersing monthly payments to communities in need while encouraging local leaders to find solutions for what their populations need the most.
But there have been several Métis advocates located in B.C. who have criticized the emergency financial aid for the COVID-19 pandemic as poorly planned, while elected officials volunteer their time to forge partnerships within each of the communities they represent.
“We’re second class citizens,” said Patrick Harriott, president of the Métis Nation of Greater Victoria, during a phone interview.
“We’re Métis whether we’re in B.C., Ontario or Manitoba. It shouldn’t matter where we live … We need a national registry to regulate citizenship, but we’re just not there yet.”
According to the Canadian Press, the federal government announced $306 million in aid for Indigenous communities, including the governing body for the Métis population in Canada. The founding members of the MNC include Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Ontario and B.C. joined the MNC last, but unfortunately, that has resulted in ongoing challenges for provincial leadership, especially for Métis communities in need during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The funding model (that was used to distribute federal funding for the pandemic) is about 20 years old,” explained Harriott. “It’s super unfortunate they went with that model because it’s not based on population or needs. It’s just based on an old funding model from 20 years ago to support the founding members of the Métis National Council.”
That means Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan communities each received 25 per cent of the federal funding intended for Métis citizens from the Trudeau government, Harriott added, but B.C. and Ontario shared 25 per cent, resulting in payments of 12.5 per cent for emergency financial aid in their communities.
“It’s still being worked out with the (MNC),” Fisher said.
But another local group has stepped up to the plate to start fielding requests for the community in short order.
The CBT has made financial contributions to support community-based organizations that provide direct services to vulnerable populations such as Métis associations, First Nation communities, food banks, social service agencies, child care operators, hospices and housing societies.
On Thursday, April 2, the CBT announced $11.7 million of funding to support basin residents who are being impacted by the global healthcare crisis. Their goal was to support small businesses, vulnerable populations and community organizations with new and existing programs.
“The COVID-19 pandemic presented everyone with unprecedented challenges,” said Johnny Strilaeff, Columbia Basin Trust president and CEO. “In March, we announced immediate support to food banks, child care operators, housing societies, hospices, social service agencies, First Nations communities and Métis associations. We’re pleased to help these organizations, like the Columbia Valley Métis Association, adapt their service delivery and continue to support the people who rely on them.”
A portion of this funding came to the CVMA to help citizens cover unexpected costs, outstanding bills, education, substance abuse, mental health, groceries and child care programming.
The CVMA has created a financial assistance program for self-identified Métis residents of the Columbia Valley to apply in the event the impacts of COVID-19 have left someone vulnerable in need of support.
“We screen all the applications within 24 hours,” Fisher explained. “And we review requests on a case-by-case basis with a follow up screening interview on the phone. People can fill out the application to tell us what they need, whether it’s grocery or gas cards. We look at individual needs as well, and what I mean by that is: some people are short $200 for their mortgage after everything is said and done.”
Interest in the programming has gained traction within the community at a rapid pace.
“Lots of Métis community members have reached out to see what’s available,” Fisher explained.
“We have single parents (and) families where both parents are unemployed and waiting for EI, or CERB to kick-in.”
Criteria for the program is based on the total number of dependents as well as parents, and the employment status of guardians.
To apply for financial assistance through the CVMA, visit: http://www.columbiavalleymetis.ca/resources/covid-19-resources/ and your request will be reviewed within 24-hours.
Ongoing support initiatives for Métis citizens in the valley
MNBC has provided hand sanitizer, face masks and gloves at no charge to Métis citizens throughout the province, including the Columbia Valley community.
The CVMA has recently donated $500 to the Summit Youth Centre (formerly known as The Hub) to support teens who may require snacks.
Up to 30 food hampers were delivered by the CVMA volunteers before food and gas cards were offered to Métis citizens in the community.
The CVMA would like to reimburse the Columbia Valley Food Network (CVFN) for several meals to be delivered to isolated, vulnerable individuals, including two widows.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has a partnership with MNBC to promote literacy where one age appropriate book per month is distributed to Métis children for early years programming (0 to 5 years old).
Students from grade 1 up to grade 12 can apply for $500 grants to be used for internet installations, buying tablets, educational games or laptops to support remote learning.