June 22, 2020 was National Indigenous Peoples Day. But this recognition should not be limited to one day. As Greg Rickford, Ontario Minister of Indigenous Affairs stated, “It’s a day to recognize the contributions of Indigenous Peoples to our province and the need to continue working together as partners based on mutual respect and the recognition of rights.”
A recent report by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) titled “Small Business, Big Impact” examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Ontario’s small businesses. Not only did the findings show that small business was more adversely impacted by the pandemic, but that the impact on rural and northern communities including First Nations was even more acute.
Both provincial and federal governments have made commitments to help these businesses.
On June 19th, the government of Ontario announced up to $10 million for Indigenous-owned small and medium sized businesses to help them with much needed capital as the province begins to safely and
gradually reopen the economy. The announcement said, “loans of up to $50,000 will be available to businesses that are either ineligible for, or unable to access, existing federal and provincial COVID-19 response initiatives for small businesses.”
As part of its COVID-19 response, the federal government announced $306.8 million on April 18th to help small and medium-sized Indigenous businesses impacted by the pandemic. The funding provides short term, interest-free loans and non-repayable contributions through 59 Aboriginal financial institutions, which offer financing and business support services to First Nations, Inuit, and Metis businesses. The federal
government’s announcement was expected to help 6,000 Indigenous-owned businesses.
This was important states the report because accessing capital has been a longstanding barrier to expansion for First Nations firms. The report goes on to say that “In 2015, only 19 percent of First Nations
businesses obtained financing from traditional financial institutions. Instead, many rely on retained earnings or personal savings to start/operate their business. Poor or non-existent broadband connectivity is also common in northern communities. Further, eligibility criteria for recent federal loan and wage subsidy programs have been problematic for some businesses, including seasonal tourism businesses in the north. Taken together, the lack of finances to cover fixed costs, difficulties accessing government resources online and establishing e-commerce, and ineligibility for some federal programs present real risks for First Nations
businesses, northern Ontario’s economy, and the broader SME community.”
The OCC report pulls together the following information about First Nations Businesses:
Before the pandemic, according to a survey by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), First Nations Firms stated they had the following challenges:
Since the start of the pandemic in March, 90% of First Nations businesses are very or somewhat concerned the pandemic will affect business operations. 78% experienced a moderate to high negative impact on business activity and 35% say it would take between 1 and 3 months to restore normal business operations after COVID-19 subsides.
While the concern is real, there has also been opportunity within the crisis and in some cases,
according to the author of the OCC report, it is possible new offerings may become permanent.
There are three First Nation communities in the Peterborough area, Curve Lake, Hiawatha and
Alderville First Nations. Thank you to Chief Emily Whetung, Chief Laurie Carr, Chief Dave Mowat and their councils for their leadership.