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Indigenous businesses 'evolve, pivot' in recovery from pandemic

National survey shows many struggling Indigenous entrepreneurs need grants, not loans, to survive
Indigenous Tourism Ontario
(Indigenous Tourism Ontario photo)

Indigenous-owned businesses were among the hardest hit by the pandemic in Canada.

A new national survey of these entrepreneurs shows that, despite resilience and optimism, many businesses continue to struggle with declining revenues, closures and employee layoffs.

The COVID-19 Indigenous Business Survey is the product of three groups – the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, the National Indigenous Economic Development Board, and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business – which have been building a case that Indigenous-owned business hold a unique place in the Canadian economy and require ongoing policies and strategies to meet their individual needs.

These organizations released their first set of findings on how Indigenous businesses were coping due to the pandemic in April 2020. Their second survey came out this week. The report analyzes data from Dec. 18, 2020, to Feb. 1, 2021 with 825 responses.

Among the key findings were:

  • While many Indigenous businesses are struggling (73 per cent reported a negative impact from the pandemic), over a third (37 per cent) are optimistic about the coming months.
  • Businesses want a return to normalcy but have adapted in many ways with the majority seeking new digital and administrative skills to strengthen and transform business operations.
  • The data shows that 72 per cent of respondents indicated they need additional financial support, but 42 per cent of those did not apply for government programming at the time of the survey. Many stated that although they need support, they are unable to take on additional debt, preferring support in the form of grants instead of loans.
  • More than half (57 per cent) reported that their business has been open throughout the pandemic, while almost four in ten (37 per cent) closed temporarily. Two per cent of respondents closed permanently. These results may be optimistic, as the voluntary nature of this survey could potentially under-represent closed businesses and those who are struggling the most.
  • Over one-third (36 per cent) of respondents have no current lending relationships with banks, credit unions, or government lenders. This lack of an existing lending relationship poses a barrier to organizations requiring quick access to capital in a crisis.

A third phase of this survey will be conducted this summer as these groups plan to continue to investigate trends in business impacts, needs for support, and to document changes Indigenous businesses are experiencing.

“This report demonstrates that Indigenous entrepreneurs continue to evolve and pivot to meet the needs of the current economic conditions," said Tabatha Bull, president-CEO, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, in a statement. "Yet, the majority of businesses surveyed require additional supports to survive the pandemic. In the coming months, it will be crucial to continue to learn how we can support Indigenous businesses to ensure an equitable recovery and post-pandemic economy.”

“Indigenous businesses are demonstrating strong survivor skills, creativity and a commitment to keeping their businesses moving forward," said Dawn Madahbee Leach, chair of the National Indigenous Economic Development Board. "The federal emergency financing provided through the network of Aboriginal Financial Institutions across Canada has helped tremendously over the past year.”

“The government provided much-needed support for 2020,” said Shannin Metatawabin, CEO, NACCA. “To ensure Indigenous businesses continue to survive and are able to rebound, additional support is required for 2021."