COVID-19 will be tough recovery says N.W.T. Indigenous businesses operators

A number of Indigenous tourism operators say the money they’ve received from the federal and territorial governments isn’t enough to keep their doors open.

In March, a $1.2 million fund was set up for business suffering under the weight of a no travel order because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But some remote operators say they’re out hundreds of thousands of dollars and the government aid being offered won’t cover the gap.

Kylik Kisoun Tayor owner Tundra North Tours was anticipating a multi-million dollar summer – but now say they’ll be lucky to clear a fraction of that.

“I will take what I can get and try to stay open but the reality is business is not going to come back,” he says. “The only grants I’ve seen where they take care of some of your overheads and it is non repayable is great, it’s what you need, but the rest of it is all loans based stuff and the payback period is too short for us to actually pay it back to get the zero interest.”

Based in Inuvik, N.W.T., the Inuvialuit, Gwitchin’in run company provides cultural expeditions by land and water along the Arctic coast.

Outside of the established Yellowknife Aurora tourism sector, Indigenous tourism in remote communities only started to gain a footing over the last decade.

“Most Indigenous businesses are really young so it’s not like these businesses have had 30 years to build assets, we are all in that start up phase,” says Taylor. “Even if we have been in business 10 years, we are still in start up phase because we have had to create the market for Indigenous experiences and had to create the organizations like ITAC (Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada) is really new.

“We have had to create all these framework to get where we are at. We were just starting to see success.”

Further north it’s a similar story.

Kaptana’s Arctic Adventures in Uluhoktuk just lost out on a $60,000 big game guiding trip.

“If COVID wasn’t going on we would have been hunting muskox, polar bears and also wolf for our big game hunting,” says Kuptana Arctic Adventures owner David Kuptana. “But right now with everyone closed down nothing has really happened, just hunting for ourselves.”

Both operators cater almost primarily to international clients and with some communities like Ulu restricting visitors, Taylor likens the situation to the crash of 2008.

“It will be hard for small business to open their arms back to visitors,” says Taylor. “Not only will the market be able to recover for sustainable businesses like mine but will the communities accept that going forward.”

The N.W.T. currently had 11 confirmed cases of the virus. Those 11 people have recovered.

The territory has repeatedly stated that any expected loosening of COVID-19 restrictions will be tied to strict border security with only N.W.T. residents and essential workers to enter the territory this summer.

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