A University of Saskatchewan professor has been awarded a research grant to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Indigenous businesses.

Ken Coates, who is the Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the university, has been given $25,000 to examine pandemic effects on Aboriginal Economic Development Corporations.

Coates said many Canadians may not realize the significant financial impact Indigenous business is currently having on the economy.

“To a degree that most Canadians simply don’t understand, the development corporations have emerged as major players in the national economy,” he said. “So, if you look up in the far north of Saskatchewan, in the Athabasca Basin, for example, the major development corporations up there have annual revenues in excess of $100 million a year. That’s actually a lot of money.”

However, Coates said AEDCs can also be small operations such as community-owned gas stations.

As a whole, the U of S estimates these economic development corporations hold millions of dollars worth of assets and contribute roughly $30 billion to the Canadian economy.

Coates, who also teaches in the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, said another important thing to keep in mind is because AEDCs are relatively new, they are particularly vulnerable to economic downturns.

“So, our big question was, number one, how is COVID affecting these community-owned corporations? And, secondly, what advice can we get from the communities, from the development corporations, about how to respond?”

The federal research grant is through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

As part of the study, Coates will also partner with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

The study will begin by analyzing a 2018 CCAB research survey on umbrella groups.

The council also plans to collect a new wave of data by interviewing 10 senior officials of development corporations.

Researchers will then compare key demographic, economic and operational factors from both the pre- and post-pandemic periods which will be used to give the federal government an up-to-date picture on economic recovery policies that affect Indigenous business organizations.

Coates said he expects to have the study completed sometime in 2021.

(PHOTO: University of Saskatchewan professor Ken Coates. File photo.)