Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Keith Henry is pleading for patience.
The president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) realizes the frustration is mounting among Indigenous tourism business owners across the country.
Back in mid-June the federal government announced it would provide $16 million in funding to support the Indigenous tourism industry. ITAC is to deliver those funds through a grant stimulus program it is offering.
More than 600 Indigenous businesses applied back in April to ITAC for grants worth up to $25,000 each. Those businesses were originally seeking funding through a grant program ITAC was offering on its own.
ITAC officials announced they would only be able to assist a fraction of those that applied for their grants. But with the federal funding announcement, there was plenty of hope as all 600-plus applicants were expected to receive grants.
In a webinar Henry hosted on Facebook on Thursday, however, it was revealed federal funding has not started flowing yet.
And now many of those applicants might only be eligible for a portion of, or perhaps none of this announced funding.
John Giraldez, the director of business development for Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), said during the webinar that’s because federal stacking of funds is not allowed.
That means those businesses that have applied for or received money from other federal funding programs during the pandemic would have to deduct whatever money they received from their $25,000 grant application.
This will get rather complicated as ITAC officials now have to go back and see which businesses that applied for ITAC funding have already received funding from federal sources.
“If they’re getting funding from a provincial, municipal or non-federal organization, it’s not an issue,” Giraldez said.
But as things stand now, it is a major issue for those businesses that applied and received a maximum of $40,000 in emergency loans from the federal government, administered by Aboriginal Financial Institutions (AFI). Unless criteria is changed, they will not be eligible for an ITAC grant.
That’s even though $30,000 of the AFI money would be a loan and the other $10,000 would be a grant, which does not have to be repaid as long as the rest of the loan is paid on time.
“That wasn’t our understanding to be honest with you until this morning,” Henry said during the webinar, which primarily attracted owners of Indigenous tourism businesses seeking information on the status of their ITAC grant applications.
During the webinar both Henry and Giraldez explained that even though federal funding was announced in mid-June, it’s far from a simple process to quickly get that money to business owners, many of which are encountering substantial financial struggles during the pandemic.
“It’s not like we snap a finger, an announcement is made and $16 million shows up in our account,” Henry said.
Giraldez echoed the sentiment that many steps are involved after the federal government announced it would be providing funding.
Money will eventually come from the Department of Finance. But the Privy Council Office and Treasury Board are also involved.
Once the money eventually reaches ISC, then a final agreement must be negotiated with ITAC.
“It takes a while,” Giraldez said, adding he’s hoping the final agreement is signed some point next week. “Once that is done hopefully things start rolling.”
Like the grant applicants, Henry said ITAC officials have also been waiting for news of the funding.
“We’ve been negotiating this since the announcement in June,” Henry said. “It’s not that we’re delaying it. We just haven’t gotten the conditions around it.”
Henry added it was only this past week that ITAC officials signed the initial funding agreement and that they are still negotiating final terms.
“Please be patient,” he said. “People want their agreements out for those that signed in April. But we can’t give you an agreement because we don’t have a final funding agreement with ISC.”
Henry is hoping that those who submitted applications, and are indeed still eligible, for the ITAC grants will receive their money by either September or October.
Next week ITAC is also expected to announce a second intake of grant applications for those who did not file before original submissions were closed.
“If you haven’t applied, please get yourself ready to apply,” Henry said.
Henry said the grants ITAC will be administering is just a part of what his association is doing to assist Indigenous businesses owners across the country.
Earlier this year ITAC released details on what it plans to do in the coming years to help the Indigenous tourism industry bounce back from the pandemic.
That plan is titled Forward Together: A Strategic Recovery Plan For The Indigenous Tourism Industry In Canada.
“We do have a longer-term plan for 2020 to 2024,” Henry said.
“We don’t know where this is going to end up but these are the kind of things I want our members to know. We are advocating for longer-term stabilization. We know COVID is going to be with us for at least possibly the next two, three years if you believe the what the national medical health doctor said.”