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Sask. Indigenous commerce group says economic recovery a ‘mixed bag’

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An Indigenous-focused chamber of commerce says geography, connectivity and COVID-19 are affecting of Indigenous-owned businesses are recovering from the pandemic – Jul 30, 2021

The chair of the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce Saskatchewan said the post-COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery for Indigenous-owned businesses in the province is “a mixed bag.”

Patrick Dinsdale told Global News that the owners he’s heard from have told him very different things.

The one common message, though, is that they’re cautious.

“Everyone is still looking for some clarity,” he said.

Read more: Saskatoon economy recovering but IMF warns of inflation, vaccine inequality

“They’re looking for a sense of what’s coming next. How do we prepare for it? You know, there’s always a little bit of trepidation.”

Dinsdale believes the outcomes depend on where the businesses are located and if they have good connectivity.

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If a business is on a reserve, he said, owners may have struggled because fewer customers visited when health authorities advised against travel. He also pointed out travel restrictions prevented owners from bringing in some employees.

Sonja Head suffered both those problems.

She manages the Lionel Head Memorial Store in Red Earth First Nation, which is about 200 kilometres east of Prince Albert.

The Red Earth chief and council closed the First Nation’s borders during the height of the pandemic, as did many other councils, in order to protect the community from COVID-19.

“One time I came in (to work),” she said, “and there was just one staff member.”

Read more: Northern Saskatchewan First Nations seeing COVID-19 outbreaks

All of the other employees, nearly 20, were in isolation because of possible COVID exposures, she said, speaking on the phone from Red Earth First Nations.

She also had to lay off several employees temporarily because so few customers were visiting.

Ally Hrbachek had a very different experience.

She started her bakery, “Ally’s Cake Creeations,” in January 2020, just a few weeks before health professionals diagnosed the first COVID-19 case in the province.

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Despite the lockdown, Hrbachek said her business steadily increased.

She told Global News she has still been able to sell her intricately decorated baked goods to families stuck at home.

“When the pandemic first started, kids were sent home and they weren’t able to go anywhere or do anything,” she said.

“So I started offering cookie kits and I offered delivery.”

Hrbachek said she has a big advantage in that she’s based in Saskatoon and works out of her home.

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Still, she said she worried.

“I didn’t think I was going to survive at all,” she said.

Her business is one of the few exceptions to the findings from a recent report.

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The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business’ second COVID-19 Indigenous Business Survey found that 73 per cent of respondents said they had been negatively affected by the pandemic.

Most reported a drop in revenue, cancellations of events and decreased customer demand.

Forty-eight per cent said they laid off staff either temporarily or permanently and just 37 per cent said they anticipate positive impacts in the next six months.

Read more: Canada facing the start of a Delta-driven 4th wave, top doctors warn

Dinsdale said that pessimism is based on uncertainty, that no one knows for sure how to reopen while staying safe.

He said the recent outbreak at Buffalo River Dene Nation shows how quickly things can change.

“How stable is this recovery? How stable are things going to be?,” he said, voicing some of the concerns he said he’s heard from the Chamber’s members.

“Are we potentially looking at another shutdown in the future as you hear different things swirling around?”

Head said the store’s business had largely recovered, though she said she’s still worried about another wave of COVID.

She told Global News staff still check customer’s temperatures when they enter the building.

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Hrbachek said she’s also still nervous.

“Are we going to have a brand new wave come through that’s going to shut us all down again?” she asked.

“There’s just a lot of factors to consider.”

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