How COVID-19 is impacting Aboriginal business

The Canadian Business Resilience Network brings together a vast network of over 450 chambers of commerce and boards of trade and more than 100 of Canada’s leading business and industry associations, from all regions and sectors of the economy. This network represents diverse viewpoints, and the CBRN blog provides a platform to share ideas with other members of the business community and the federal government. The opinions expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of CBRN or the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

This piece is written by Tabatha Bull, President and CEO, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB).


At the end of May, we learned that Nish Dish, a popular Toronto restaurant serving Anishinaabe cuisine, was closing for good. This is just one of the many Aboriginal businesses across Canada that are experiencing the negative economic effects of the pandemic. We have learned from many of our members that there is an extremely high number of Indigenous businesses that have been negatively affected by COVID-19. Many have had to temporarily shut down their offices, while others have had to close permanently.

At CCAB, we understand the impact of the Indigenous economy on Indigenous communities. Just like for all Canadians, when businesses are thriving, communities thrive. The difference is that Indigenous communities have been historically under-served, under-resourced, and systemically kept out of the Canadian economy, so they have further to go to reach the same levels of wellbeing and wealth as non-Indigenous communities.

To mitigate some of the negative effects of the pandemic on businesses, the federal government set up different sources of relief. Unfortunately, in some cases, funding programs did not reflect the unique situations of Aboriginal businesses. Some examples include:

  • The Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) initially allowed for only taxable income to be counted towards payroll eligibility. This excluded businesses on-reserve where income is not taxed. The eligibility requirements were amended, which was appreciated, albeit with a delay in program access.
  • Bill C-14 initially left many large Indigenous-owned businesses ineligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). This was also amended, but again delayed program access for some Aboriginal businesses.
  • The Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) cannot be used for the payment of dividends. This presents a barrier to many Aboriginal Economic Development Corporations who support vital social programming of their affiliated Nations through the payment of dividends to their  shareholders. This remains to be amended.

It has taken considerable effort for governments to stay ahead of the country’s needs during the pandemic. While the policy response has been greatly appreciated across this nation, there remains a delay in closing the gap for Aboriginal business support, which has led to an increased negative impact. When devising the programs that will aid ALL Canadian business, Indigenous issues need to be top of mind for governments and the Canadian public.

Relief funding from the federal government cannot be the only way to move forward. Many Aboriginal businesses, like other Canadian businesses, are producing vital personal protective equipment (PPE) to help slow the spread of the virus. While we encourage federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to award contracts to Aboriginal businesses for PPE, we know that increasingly, we are seeing demand for medical and non-medical grade PPE in everyday life. We encourage corporate Canada to look at our growing list of Certified Aboriginal Businesses that are providing PPE and consider procuring from them. Take the money you were planning on spending anyway and spend it where it is going to have greater impact – on Aboriginal businesses.

– Tabatha Bull