NWAC views COVID-19 as an example of health inequalities in Canada. We believe federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal governments should do more to ensure the protection of Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people. This includes increasing supports in health for those with socioeconomic needs following the conclusion of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Executive Summary:

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) originates from a large family of coronaviruses and is an infectious disease that, in most cases, will cause mild to moderate respiratory illness for any person at any age. In late November 2021, the WHO designated Omicron (variant B.1.1.529) a worldwide concern, declaring it a “Variant of Concern” due to being significantly more contagious. Omicron has several mutations.

COVID-19 spreads by way of liquid particles from an infected person’s mouth or nose, most commonly due to coughing, sneezing, speaking, singing, or breathing. Symptoms show very similarly to that of a common cold or flu and range in severity. Symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Aches and pains 
  • Nausea/diarrhoea 
  • Discolouration or a rash on fingers or toes
  • Red, irritated eyes
  • Loss of speech or mobility
  • Confusion
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pneumonia in both lungs

Vulnerable populations, such as those with underlying medical conditions (i.e., cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, or cancer) or those in remote locations, experience additional complications from COVID-19. Indigenous communities are more vulnerable than other populations, as reserve communities are at a greater risk of suffering from respiratory illnesses such as tuberculosis. 

In Canada, COVID-19 has further shown inequalities that exist in the healthcare sector. Indigenous women continue to be over-represented by negative health statistics due to the history of colonization, discriminatory policies, and gaps in the current healthcare system. Particularly, COVID-19 has further highlighted how remote many Indigenous communities are in Canada, further uncovering unresolved issues in housing and access to supplies, which are monumental in preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

Reactive measures to COVID-19 create unforgiving environments for Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people. Lockdown measures have been shown to worsen situations for many Indigenous women in abusive relationships, who become limited by these measures as they can no longer leave the home to seek safety or report cases of domestic violence.

NWAC’s Role:

NWAC is currently collaborating with Provincial and Territorial Member Associations, NWAC Elders, and youth, while also communicating with Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to ensure Indigenous People are informed of COVID-19 developments. This is done through the development of a specialized webpage on the NWAC website, providing current information on COVID-19. The NWAC website also provides information and hyperlinks to Indigenous and Territorial health authorities. 

Throughout the pandemic, NWAC understands that there are increased rates of gender-based violence and abuse. In response, NWAC is providing free support from Elders for its users. NWAC has provided further support through the Resiliency Lodge and virtual cultural workshops.

Canadian Government’s Role:

Since the emergence of COVID-19 in 2020, the Federal Government has acted through ISC. This has provided distribution of resources to Indigenous communities by shipping orders of hand sanitizer, N95 masks, and other medical needs to communities. ISC has also deployed 595 nurses and 392 paramedics to Indigenous communities throughout Canada.

ISC has deployed over 560 mobile structures across Canada, of which 436 have been delivered to 134 communities. Of the remaining structures, 76 have been deployed to communities to support fly-in and remote communities. The Canadian government has provided additional resources to ensure the continuity of routes into Indigenous communities. 

New financial supports have been provided for Indigenous People, organizations, communities, businesses, and students. In May 2020, the Canadian government announced an increase of $270 million in funding for the On-reserve Income Assistance Program. The ISC provided an additional $1 billion to address immediate organizational and community needs, targeting housing, education, childcare, and investing into long-term care to protect Elders.


It has been globally recognized that Indigenous communities are exceptionally vulnerable to contracting viruses. Issues of malnutrition, lack of clean water, and inadequate healthcare have led to health concerns among Indigenous People, which have been exacerbated by discrepancies in access to healthcare. NWAC believes there should be more support provided for Elders in Indigenous communities, as their death represents further cultural loss for their communities.

International response has focused on developing recommendations to efficiently work and support Indigenous communities. The Organization of American States (OAS) has called its members to work with Indigenous communities to generate specific programs and policies for sustaining the economies of Indigenous communities. 

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) has listed several recommendations for working with Indigenous communities. UNDESA suggests governments should recognize and work with Indigenous authorities to provide community-influenced responses. UNDESA indicates the importance of disaggregating population data to better understand the effects of COVID-19 and other illnesses within Indigenous populations.


  • As of January 17, 2022, ISC was aware of 63,602 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases on First Nations reserves. This accounted for 5,374 active cases, 2,533 hospitalizations, 57,644 recoveries, and 584 deaths. 
  • Based on ISC statistics, the COVID-19 fatality rate among First Nations people living on a reserve is 77 percent of the case fatality rate in the general Canadian population. 
  • As of January 11, 2022, ISC is aware of 1,006,262 doses administered; 401,045 of which were second doses and 90,004 were third doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Vaccines. 
(1) Statistics reflect those available through ISC and do not provide data for those off reserves

Consulted Resources

Canada, I. S. (2022, January 11). What we are doing. Retrieved from Government of Canada: https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1606941379837/1606941507767 

Curtice, K., & Choo, E. (2020). Indigenous populations: left behind in the COVID-19 response . The Lancet.

Government of Canada – Indigenous Services Canada. (2022, January 11). Confirmed Cases of COVID-19. Retrieved from Government of Canada: https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/160

Government of Canada – Indigenous Services Canada. (2021, December 24). COVID-19 vaccines and Indigenous peoples. Retrieved from Government of Canada: https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/160

Government of Canada. (2022, January 17). COVID-19 daily epidemiology update. Retrieved from Government of Canada: https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1581964230816/1581964277298

Health, I. S.-I. (2020, February 26). Tuberculosis in Indigenous Communities. Retrieved from Government of Canada: https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1570132922208/1570132959826#chp4

Indigenous Services Canada. (2021, December 22). New Financial Support. Retrieved from Government of Canada: https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1603128498412/1603128634360

Indigenous Services Canada. (2021, December 29). On-reserve Income Assistance program. Retrieved from Government of Canada: https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1100100035256/1533307528663

UN Women. (2020, August 9). UN Women statement on the Internatiional Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved from UN Women: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/8/statement-un-women-international-day-of-the-worlds-indigenous-peoples

United Nations: Department of Economic and Social Affairs . (2020, May). The Impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples . Retrieved from UN: https://www.un.org/development/desa/dpad/wp-content/uploads/sites/45/publication/PB_70.pdf