WINNIPEG -- The Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) is asking for more assistance, funding and support for off-reserve First Nations people during the pandemic.

Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said in a news release that First Nations people in southern Manitoba are having a difficult time finding the proper resources.

“The $15 million allocated under the Indigenous Community Support Fund to support urban and off-reserve people nationally is simply inadequate, and a transparent response to First Nation communities that have applied for funding is missing,” he said.

The news release notes that less than $1 million of this federal funding will be going to nine Manitoba organizations, though the SCO doesn’t know which groups at this point.

“Chiefs need to know where they can refer their off-reserve members for support,” said Daniels.

Throughout the duration of the pandemic, the SCO and its chief have received several requests from off-reserve members for help with food, cleaning supplies, household items and rent relief.

“Requests for support are coming from vulnerable urban and off-reserve members who have lost precarious employment, or who are on provincial Employment and Income Assistance (EIA),” the organization said, noting that many people on EIA rely on food banks and soup kitchens, which have closed or reduced service. 

Daniels said that many First Nations people face child poverty, as well as poor health and living conditions, and that the COVID-19 pandemic has added to the stress of everyday life.

“Our Chiefs and communities have not received the information they need to respond to the additional challenges and stresses that the COVID-19 pandemic has added to First Nation citizens living off reserve,” said Daniels.

Last week, CTV News Winnipeg reported the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. is also concerned over the level of federal funding for the COVID-19 response for Indigenous people living off-reserve.

In response, Vanessa Adams, press secretary for Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, said the funding that’s been allocated to regional, urban and off-reserve Indigenous organizations is just the beginning.

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

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

Adams noted that the government has streamlined the application and disbursement process so funds go directly to Indigenous communities and groups.