The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is officially declaring a State of Emergency for First Nations regarding the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The AFN is pressing for immediate increases in funding for First Nations and full involvement in all discussions with governments on planning and preparedness to ensure the unique needs of First Nations are addressed.
“The AFN is declaring a State of Emergency because First Nations need to be fully supported to meet all of the public health recommendations that this pandemic warrants,” said AFN National Chief Bellegarde. “First Nations are the most vulnerable communities in the country and prevention efforts and preparation for critical care must be stepped up now. While the federal funding announced recently is a start, it is inadequate to meet the anticipated needs. This is about the health and safety of First Nations families and communities. We need to act now.”
The Assembly of First Nations national Executive Committee, comprised of the National Chief and AFN Regional Chiefs from across the country, held an emergency meeting on March 21, 2020 to assess the current situation and readiness of First Nations. On March 23, the AFN Executive Committee members passed a motion declaring a national State of Emergency. The motion calls for increased resources and support for First Nations, and that funding be provided on a “needs and equity basis,” with specific consideration for northern, remote and isolated communities. The motion states that “First Nations leadership be fully and meaningfully involved at the decision-making tables in the development of all plans, legislation, policies, budget allocations and regulations regarding the COVID-19 pandemic federally and provincially.” The motion also affirms AFN support for all First Nations that have already declared states of emergency, travel bans and other measures.
National Chief Bellegarde pointed out the unique circumstances First Nations face that require unique approaches noting, for example, that there are 96 remote fly-in First Nations across the country that are not easily accessible. These kinds of situations require increased supports and direct engagement with First Nations in planning and preparedness.
AFN Yukon Regional Chief Kluane Adamek, who chairs the AFN Chiefs Committee on Health, said: “The crisis we face is serious. We must take the direction of health officials seriously. The time is now to flatten the curve. There is a role and responsibility for everyone – youth, Elders, leadership and our communities – and we must support our most vulnerable. Governments need to respond to this State of Emergency. We need to be coordinated and working together because First Nations need to be prepared and we need to be supporting them.”
The National Chief is communicating the AFN Executive Committee decision directly to the Government of Canada and is seeking an immediate response.