Supporting Indigenous Businesses Through COVID-19
- The loans that Indigenous entrepreneurs are receiving from the government’s $306 million stimulus package should reflect the size of the given company—rather than a set $40,000.
- Canadians need to understand inherent rights and treaty rights—ignorance is no longer a solution—and the Parliament should embrace the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
- Alberta’s $1 billion Indigenous Opportunities Fund is not enough when shared across the Métis nations of Alberta, Indigenous organizations and the treaty people of Alberta.
The Senate of Canada needs to look beyond just political partisan approaches and support Indigenous people across this country because if the entrepreneurs are successful, the businesses are successful, Canada as a whole succeeds as well.
What is your assessment of how Canadian governments have rolled out emergency measures to support the Indigenous economy through COVID-19?
Businesses are suffering a little bit, there is no doubt, because of the downturn. But I also believe the federal governments needs to—and they have—provided additional funding for Indigenous business and entrepreneurs and Aboriginal Financial Institutions (AFIs), for example. However, I do not feel it has gone far enough, it is not far reaching enough.
My point is, for example, the $40,000 assistance fund is not enough, especially for struggling Indigenous entrepreneurs. Some have sadly closed their doors because the business has not flourished in times of the pandemic.
“My position—as a lead for a tribal council representing six nations—is that $1 billion is not enough.”
The Alberta government here, for example, has a $1 billion fund that they are working with Indigenous businesses. It is a guaranteed fund, a loan fund. I applaud them for it, however, my position—as a lead for a tribal council representing six nations—is that $1 billion is not enough because we are sharing that with our brothers and sisters, the Métis nations of Alberta, the Métis settlements and other Indigenous organizations and institutions as well as the treaty people of Alberta. So, when you equate that, $1 billion does not go far enough.
What are the priorities in terms of supporting the Indigenous economy going forward?
The systematic approach of Indigenous funding was already relatively low, and I will use an example of National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA), for example. My understanding is that the funding was reduced vastly throughout the past decade, and we have never gone back to that level. We were working very hard, the board members and I, and the team of course, to try to bring back those numbers that we have lost decades ago and sadly, the COVID also hit—so it is a double whammy so to speak.
The funding was never sufficient to begin with, it was reduced, and it was never returned to sufficient levels and we need to do that—but to do that, we need the government’s help.
What role do you see for the Aboriginal Financial Institutions, or AFIS, in supporting the Indigenous economy post-COVID-19 now that the government has committed more than $300 million to the Indigenous community support fund?
I think the AFIs across the Turtle Island, if you will, coast-to-coast-to-coast are doing absolute excellent jobs. They are doing very well and this funding, the $308 million, should help them assist their past and current and perhaps future entrepreneurs.
The important thing here that I believe is, again, I alluded to earlier, the systematic approach of the $40,000 needs to be changed in my view. We need to assist the entrepreneurs with more than that, dependent on the size of their loan or their company. That is something I would like to see—but at the same time, I think the AFIs themselves need assistance. They need help from those monies for their needs—for example, to keep the lights on and keep the doors open and to keep employing the staff for the AFIs.
“The systematic approach of the $40,000 needs to be changed in my view. We need to assist the entrepreneurs with more than that, dependent on the size of their loan or their company.”
That needs to happen, and I really hope that after the COVID—which we do not know when that is ever going to be—the monies that were allocated [stay] with NACCA and the AFIs so they can at least at a minimum try to catch up where we had lost allocations years ago.
How should systems within government bodies or Crown corporations be improved in terms of actually getting money to the Indigenous entrepreneurs and companies that need it? What impact could this have?
In my view, I think it is “keep it simple”—make access to capital a reality for the Indigenous people. In some instances, there are applications done and they are turned away for a multitude of reasons. Rather than do that, let us find a mechanism to prepare them for success—successful application not only for the funding but, also successful application—if you will—for their company to succeed, and that is something I would like to see.
If you look at municipalities, if you look at provincial governments, they have contracts out there that they prescribe, for example. Or even at the federal level, contracts that are out there, for example, with the military or even with Indigenous Services Canada. If our Indigenous people have the capacity, they need to be provided the opportunity to perhaps garner or obtain those contracts so they can be successful.
The way I look at, if we have one successful Indigenous business [it] now hires other Albertans, other Canadians—it is not just hiring Indigenous people. I will use the casinos as an example and some of the other companies that we have out there in the oil and gas sector. We hire qualified people, so in this business, we are in the business for not the only Indigenous people and the entrepreneurs but for Canadians as a whole.
What benefits do intertribal associations provide in terms of economic development and what types of Indigenous businesses do you see them investing in going forward?
The 634 nations across Canada, as well as the Inuit and the Métis nations respectfully, you know we need to work together, and we need to invest in one another.
“We need to work together, and we need to invest in one another.”
When I was at the AFN, we even talked about setting up like a hedge fund to pool our monies together and fund businesses that have a very strong business case and that we see is going to be successful, and that they could draw from there. I know the government is looking at other avenues similar to that, but I think the AFIs and NACCA have a role in all of this. I think the AFIs have done an excellent job with what little money they have received throughout the years—but if you increased their capital, increased their opportunities there, they could do a lot more. In other words, not only fund for minimum entrepreneurs but we can now raise the bar in terms of, for example, funding someone who wants to buy a Tim Horton’s for say $1 million—and First Nations out there actually do own Tim Horton’s, by the way, and I am very thankful and very happy to see when I travel Canada that Indigenous people are really stepping up to the plate and owning beautiful businesses. We cannot stop there.
“There is land out there and we need to use that land to create employment for our people and Agriculture Canada is well situated, so let us work with them to create the space.”
Here in Alberta—and I know for NACCA for example—I support agriculture and I know we have been working on a possible mechanism to work with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) to step up a little bit and to support Indigenous ranchers and farmers as well. There is land out there and we need to use that land to create employment for our people and Agriculture Canada is well situated, so let us work with them to create the space.
Let us work with the logging industry, because [the] logging industry is still alive and well. Oil and gas has its challenges, but logging by far is fairly consistent—it all depends on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of course—but it is fairly consistent. So, let us look at new angles such as the new age of computers and high-speed technology and everything else, and there are Indigenous groups out there looking at that.
At the same time, you touched on it earlier and I touched on it as well, is we should never forget Mother Earth. If we can do environment[ally] safe practices that will work, such as remediation of the earth and remediation of water, let us do it. Let us fund them, let us support our entrepreneurs that are going that direction.
What progress is being made on upholding treaty rights? What do we have to do or think differently in that respect?
Canadians need to understand and comprehend what [are] inherent rights and what [are] treaty rights. They need to understand that—it is a time in our era that ignorance is not a solution anymore. Look at what happened with the Black Lives Matter, we support that. Indigenous lives matter.
“The education of treaty rights, inherent rights has to happen all across the country.”
You know, the federal governments, through time, we introduced the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). That still has not been embraced at the parliament, although one of our former colleagues introduced it in the house, it was defeated sadly. In the provinces, some provinces have embraced it, others have not, some municipalities have embraced it such as the City of Edmonton, and others have not. That is an important sector. The education of treaty rights, inherent rights has to happen all across the country.
But the treaty rights [have] to be supported by successor governments—not just the current government, not the past government, but the future government as well, and they need to start shaping what it is we want to do in this country to uphold treaty rights and it is also to implement treaty rights.
Sitting here right now, I will give you an example. We get $5 a year just to say, “Hey, we are here, we still exist.” Under the colonization approach, we get $5 just to say we are treaty Indians of this country. Well, that $5 a year, with the cost of inflation should be worth at least $50,000 a year to our citizens, our people. Automatic. Inflation has not been put into play. The treaty rights need to be implemented, that is the biggest thing that needs to happen. If the treaty rights were implemented and for example, if we were getting our share of the revenues in Alberta, across Canada, the nations would have ample funds to look after themselves and we could manage our own destiny, and that has not happened.
If you had 30 seconds to pitch a person or a group with the power to strengthen the Indigenous economy, who would you pitch and what would you say?
I would go to the Senate of Canada. The reason why I would go to the Senate of Canada is [because] I presented there several times. I have been privileged to do that. The Senate has a mechanism within the parliamentary process of Canada, and they have [a] say. They can kill bills, they can kill financial institutions, et cetera, that are relevant for the cause of the Indigenous people of this country—and it has happened. I use UNDRIP for example—that is where it was defeated. So the Senate of Canada needs to look beyond just political partisan approaches and support Indigenous people across this country because if the entrepreneurs are successful, the businesses are successful, Canada as a whole succeeds as well.