WINNIPEG -- Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.(MKO) is expressing its concerns over the amount of federal funding for the COVID-19 response for Indigenous people living off-reserve.

In a news release from Thursday, the MKO cited the Indigenous Community Support Fund, which allocates $15 million for organizations and communities in Canada that provide services to Indigenous people living off-reserve or in urban centres.

Grand Chief Garrison Settee said that MKO has learned that less than $1 million will be given to nine Manitoba organizations to help those living off-reserve deal with the impacts of the pandemic.

“One million dollars to assist thousands of First Nation, Inuit, and Metis people living in urban and rural locations in Manitoba is clearly insufficient,” he said in the news release.

The MKO noted that organizations had to develop and submit a proposal to be considered for the $15 million in funding.

“First Nations were not eligible to apply on behalf of their off-reserve members,” it said. 

“Across Canada, 500 organizations submitted proposals with 92 of these coming from Manitoba. Of the 92 proposals submitted in Manitoba, only 9 will receive funding.”

The MKO submitted a proposal for funding for $5 million to help people living off-reserve in northern Manitoba, but said it has not heard if the application was successful.

“It is discouraging to see so little funding being set aside for First Nations people living off reserve. Leaders are concerned that people are going to fall through the cracks,” said Settee.

“Some MKO Chiefs clearly expressed to the federal government on multiple occasions that they would have preferred to receive funding for their entire First Nation Band membership rather than just the on-reserve citizens. Many of them receive requests for assistance but unfortunately not all First Nations are in a position to help people living off reserve.”

Settee said it is still unclear as to which organizations will receive the $15 million.

In a statement, Vanessa Adams, press secretary for Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, said the funding that’s been allocated for regional, urban and off-reserve Indigenous organizations is just the beginning, noting the government is actively working to deliver the necessary support and “make sure no Indigenous community is left behind.”

“We understands that Indigenous Peoples living in urban centres face unique needs and challenges,” she said.

 “That is why this initial funding is designed to allow for maximum flexibility to fund according to local priorities and needs”

Adams said the government had streamlined the application and disbursement process so that funds go directly to Indigenous communities and groups in Canada.