By DAWN MADAHBEE
Recently, the Waubetek Business Development Corporation undertook a preliminary economic leakage study of six First Nations in northeastern Ontario and found that 89 per cent of all dollars brought into the First Nations are spent in the surrounding communities and region. In this particular instance, the total annual expenditures of these First Nations was just over $43 million, which therefore translates into $38.6 million being spent off-reserve throughout the region! That’s a significant amount of money and, from the First Nation perspective, a strong indication that we are not taking full advantage of the revenues being generated or economic potential within the community.
In rural areas throughout Northern Ontario, many economies are dependent on the spending of Aboriginal people. All sectors of businesses throughout the north benefit from First Nation economic activity, particularly the retail and service sectors (most notably the grocery stores, auto sales, furniture stores, insurance, building suppliers) construction trades, health-related services, banks, etc. Northern Ontario towns are often first to feel the impact of changes in First Nation economies.
In addition, many First Nations have access to other resources including natural resources and land claim trust funds. We have also noted that many First Nation events such as conferences, sporting events and cultural events are major economic boosts to many northern urban centres. For example, many northern cities compete to host the annual little NHL (Native Hockey League) hockey tournament where more than 100 minor hockey teams, along with their families and fans, from First Nations throughout Ontario converge on one city for six days. This tournament is known to bring more than $10 million in recreational spending each year to the community where the event is held.
All of these forms of spending translate into significant economic influence which both First Nations and the general northern Ontario population have only begun to realize.
With 130 First Nations in the province, most of which are located in Northern Ontario, there is a need to acknowledge that First Nations and Aboriginal businesses have an important role in determining the directions and decisions affecting the Northern Ontario economy. Aboriginal involvement can actually enhance the products and services offered by Northern Ontario businesses, particularly those businesses that want to access world markets. Aboriginal involvement can make Northern Ontario unique!
Dawn Madahbee is general manager, of the Waubetek Business Development Corp.