Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. This is my first appearance before the committee, and I'm honoured to be here with you.
I'm joining you today from the Robinson-Superior Treaty territory, specifically Fort William First Nation traditional territory. Of course, many contributions were made to this area over generations by Métis people.
One of this government's highest priorities from the outset has been to build a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples in Canada. I'm continuing to build that relationship. I'm prioritizing equity, truth and self-determination as principles that are integral to a strong and healthy relationship.
Indigenous Services Canada works collaboratively with first nations, Inuit and Métis partners across the country. Our goal is to ensure a consistent, high‑quality and distinctions‑based approach to the delivery of services to indigenous communities.
At the heart of our work is the steadfast belief in substantive equality of opportunity and in outcomes. Canada will be stronger when everyone has a fair chance to succeed, and this includes advancing self-determination through strong economic growth and ensuring that business supports are accessible to indigenous peoples.
All communities need a strong economic foundation to grow and prosper, but we recognize that there are extra barriers to indigenous economic development. I'll talk about some of those barriers here today and ways to overcome them because, to work together on solutions, we actually have to understand what the problems are.
What are these barriers? First of all, lack of access to capital is one of the biggest challenges faced by indigenous businesses and can prevent indigenous entrepreneurs from starting or growing businesses.
To improve access to capital, the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association administers the aboriginal entrepreneurship program, which provides about $25 million per year of equity capital to enable indigenous entrepreneurs to obtain affordable commercial loans. The aboriginal entrepreneurship program is also supporting the new $150-million indigenous growth fund. This indigenous-led and designed fund is a key economic recovery initiative, which will provide indigenous businesses with a fully independent source of capital.
Indigenous businesses continue to experience negative impacts due to COVID-19 on top of the barriers they already faced before the pandemic began. While the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business reported last week that the situation is improving, many indigenous businesses continue to have negative impacts.
To fill gaps in the mainstream COVID-19 economic recovery initiatives, our department has provided indigenous businesses with targeted supports throughout the pandemic. To date, Indigenous Services Canada has allocated approximately $890 million in COVID-19 supports to indigenous businesses. This is on top of its regular programming to support economic development and other Government of Canada supports that can be accessed by indigenous businesses through the COVID-19 economic response plan.
One of its COVID-19 business supports is the indigenous community business fund, which provides support to eligible first nations, Inuit and Métis businesses whose revenues have been affected by the pandemic.
In British Columbia, the fund has provided over $2 million of much-needed emergency support to the St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino, which is owned by five first nations and is located in Cranbrook. This business is a major tourism anchor in the region and employs over 200 people, including many first nations members. Support from the fund helped to cover the fixed operating costs as well as support costs needed to adapt to COVID and to maintain its assets.
The hotel is now preparing to reopen this spring, and although the tourism sector is still in recovery, funding from the indigenous community business fund has helped support this community-owned business and helped the communities retain jobs.
As I'm also the minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario, it's very important to me that the regional relief and recovery fund continue to help indigenous businesses and organizations mitigate the impacts and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. FedNor has played a critical role in providing meaningful support to indigenous clients in their ongoing planning, community economic development and capacity-building efforts.
Indigenous Services Canada has also made investments to help indigenous communities offset own-source revenue losses due to the pandemic. The own-source revenue and indigenous communities initiative has helped to partially offset declines in own-source revenues so that first nations, Inuit and Métis communities can continue to provide core community programs and important services to their members.
Our department has also been very active in working to reduce barriers faced by indigenous businesses when it comes to participating in federal procurement. In August, 2021 we updated the procurement strategy for indigenous businesses and announced a new government-wide mandatory procurement target to ensure that a minimum of 5% of the value of federal contracts are awarded to businesses owned and led by indigenous individuals.
We will continue to work with indigenous partners to develop a longer-term transformative approach to indigenous procurement.
Businesses established in the indigenous community may also face a lack of access to land and proper infrastructure. Indigenous entrepreneurs may have trouble finding physical space to conduct their business and accessing business networks. In addition, they may have unreliable access to electricity and Internet connections. Lastly, they may face challenges in getting goods to market given the remoteness and poor or unavailable road infrastructure. These are complex issues.
Our government is working closely with indigenous people and organizations across the country to address the root causes of these barriers and to improve overall economic networks.