As COVID-19 poses rapidly evolving challenges to Canadian businesses, Indigenous communities and business owners are feeling particularly at risk.
Tabatha Bull is the new President & CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.
Bull is Anishinaabe and a member of Nipissing First Nation near North Bay, Ontario. Prior to joining the CCAB, she worked as an electrical engineer at the University of Waterloo, and led the First Nations and Métis Relations team at the IESO, Ontario’s electricity system operator.
“One issue is a lack of finances to begin with. Only 19 percent of Indigenous communities use traditional banking means to fund their businesses. They often rely on an economic development corporation within their community, or Aboriginal Financial Institutions,” says Bull.
Another barrier is working remotely. “Many work in remote communities where there is a lack of adequate broadband and internet access. If a business owner off reserve has to move back to a reserve because of COVID-19 to work from home they might not be able to continue their work,” says Bull.
“Retail businesses that sell at Pow Wow’s, conferences or large meetings can’t do that right now. They have to find a new way to move their inventory, and if the internet isn’t that great it’s a challenge,” says Bull.
A joint letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from the CCAB and other Canadian Indigneous business organizations says,
“In this case, we are looking at a complete stoppage of operations as few Indigenous businesses are able to work remotely.”
In the letter the CCBA says, “we want to work with the Federal Government to ensure that the Indigenous economy remains active and our entrepreneurs are able to maintain pace through this unprecedented and challenging time.”
If not for COVID-19 Aboriginal businesses were on the rise in Canada.
“There are 54 thousand Aboriginal businesses in Canada, and they were being created at nine times the rate compared with other Canadian owned businesses,” says Bull.