Good evening. Ulaakut.
I'm speaking to you this evening from the traditional territory of the Algonquin people here in Ottawa.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, I'm pleased to join you today, at least virtually, alongside my colleagues Minister Bennett and Minister Vandal. I also want to note the presence of Christiane Fox, deputy minister; Valerie Gideon, associate deputy minister; and Dr. Tom Wong, chief medical officer of public health, first nations and Inuit health branch.
Members, as of October 26, we are aware of 362 active cases of COVID-19 in first nations communities. Since the beginning of this pandemic, we've recorded 1,254 confirmed cases in first nations communities, with 877 recoveries and, tragically, 15 deaths. This number of active cases represents the highest number of active cases to date. In addition, I can report 28 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 among Inuit in Nunavik, Quebec, and all have recovered.
In recent days and weeks, there has been an alarming rise in the number of active COVID-19 cases across the country, including in indigenous communities. We took a number of measures to support indigenous communities at the onset of this pandemic, and as we face the second wave of this pandemic, we are taking stock of what we've learned and applying those lessons rapidly.
We know that when local indigenous leadership is given the necessary resources, they are best placed to successfully respond to a crisis with immediate, innovative and proactive measures to ensure the safety of their members. The low case numbers experienced by first nations communities in the first wave was evidence of this. What is clear now, however, is that the second wave has impacted indigenous communities much harder than the first.
As in the first wave, we've put together and put into place...and ensured that the health and safety of indigenous peoples is my and the Government of Canada's utmost priority.
As the pandemic continues and continues to evolve, we are making sure to prioritize sustainable access to mental health services and continue to support indigenous communities. As such, we have invested new funding of $82.5 million, in addition to the $425 million in existing funding annually for community-based services that address the mental wellness needs of indigenous peoples.
These services comply with public health measures available, and, because of the pandemic, with many telehealth or virtual options, such as the Hope for Wellness Help Line.
We continue to work in partnership with indigenous organizations and communities to support the adaptation of mental health resources and services managed by indigenous communities, and will continue to do so throughout the pandemic and beyond it.
To support the unique challenges faced by indigenous businesses and economies, on June 11, we announced $117 million, plus a $16 million stimulus development fund to support the indigenous tourism industry. This funding builds on the $306.8 million previously announced to help indigenous small and medium-sized businesses.
The Government of Canada is also helping elementary and high school students by providing $112 million to support a safe return to first nations schools on reserve, in addition to the $2 billion being provided to the provinces and territories. And we are working to ensure the security and well-being of indigenous women and children by supporting and expanding a network of family violence prevention shelters for first nations communities across the country, and in the territories.
We continue to promote public health and safety measures and have, in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, been actively evaluating and acquiring approved point-of-care tests to meet the needs of indigenous communities, especially those in rural, remote and isolated areas.
As of October 19, 70 GeneXpert instruments had been deployed to enable access to rapid point-of-care testing by indigenous communities across the country.
I'd like to take a moment to thank the health professionals, in particular Indigenous Services Canada nurses, who are supporting indigenous communities across the country by providing quality and culturally appropriate care, testing, contact tracing, prevention and treatment during this pandemic.
I would be remiss if I did not mention an emergency in Neskantaga that has been front and centre in the last few days. The recent shutdown of Neskantaga's water distribution system is indeed alarming. My officials are working directly with the leadership of Neskantaga First Nation, alongside partners such as Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Matawa First Nations Management, to mitigate the situation and ensure that the community has the support they need until water can be fully restored. Yesterday, Indigenous Services Canada's lead engineer accompanied the Matawa technical team to inspect the community's water infrastructure and continue water sampling.
Funding will be provided for immediate repairs as necessary, and efforts have been redoubled to address the issues with the distribution system and to support the community's new water system to completion. This funding is in addition to the recent $4 million of funding increase towards the project that aims to lift the long-term boil water advisory in that community, bringing the total investment to over $16.4 million. The construction of the community's water treatment plant is in its final stages, and we are optimistic that it will be up and running soon. We will continue to work with the community leadership to find immediate and long-term solutions to this health emergency.
With that, I look forward to taking your questions.
Meegwetch. Nakurmiik. Marsi cho.