First Nations business growth stunted by pandemic

Two per cent of Indigenous businesses closed permanently because of COVID-19

Tahltan NST Busing Ltd. (Northern Spirit Transportation) is among the companies run by the Tahltan Nation Development Corp., No. 1 on BIV's BIggest FIrst Nations Businesses in B.C. list | TNDC

The COVID-19 pandemic has derailed much of the overall economic progress of the past decade. But perhaps one of the most dramatic shifts is the disruption to Indigenous businesses, which were growing significantly before the pandemic.


The number of Indigenous entrepreneurs nearly doubled in Canada from 2001 to 2016, increasing to 54,225 from 27,210, with nearly half of the businesses in Indigenous communities being located in British Columbia.

In 2017, businesses in Indigenous communities generated more than $10 billion in revenue and $400 million in profits.

However, the pandemic put an end to much of the growth, as 37% of Indigenous businesses shut down temporarily and 2% closed permanently, according to a Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) survey conducted for a period ending in February 2021.

The most commonly reported impacts of the pandemic were a revenue decreases, event cancellations and demand reductions.

Business closures were not the only way First Nations businesses suffered during the pandemic. Nearly half of Indigenous companies had to lay off staff either temporarily or permanently and 61% posted decreasing revenue; 22% of Indigenous businesses suffered a revenue decline of 50% or more.

However, despite news of closures and revenue declines, not all Indigenous businesses are reeling. When the CCAB first conducted the survey in 2020, 77% of businesses were experiencing decreasing revenue. Demand appears to be recovering, however, with 43% reporting falling demand in 2021, compared with 66% in 2020.

First Nations business owners are also becoming increasingly optimistic about the future, according to the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, with 37% anticipating positive impacts in the next six months compared with just 13% who had reported positive impacts from the pandemic so far.

While many Indigenous businesses were hurt by the pandemic, more are reporting a positive impact now than in 2020. Thirteen per cent of Indigenous businesses surveyed in February 2021 said that the impact was positive, compared with 4% in 2020. •