First Nations owned businesses struggling COVID-19 losses

First Nations owned businesses struggling COVID-19 losses

Naomi Nicholson was brought to tears Thursday when her clients Ray and Marie Samuel pulled into the driveway of her Port Alberni area massage studio and guest house.

“I miss you and I love you,” Tseshaht First Nation member Marie Samuel said to Nicholson.

Instead of Nicholson offering them treatment, they remained eight feet (2.4 metres) apart, just checking in.

“Every time I go by here I think of you,” said Samuel.

Nicholson’s businesses are all closed due to COVID-19.

“It’s hard because I’m a healer,” said Naomi Nicholson, who operated Secluded Wellness Centre and Chims Guest House on the Tseshaht First Nation.

“My great-grandmother was a traditional medicine woman and Ray and Marie have been here for me, and I can’t be here for you and help you,” she said.

“It’s hurting a lot of people,” said Ray Samuel, who also lives on the Tseshaht First Nation.

Nicholson said she will apply for a loan through the newly announced $300 million dollar fund for Indigenous businesses, but wonders if she’ll ever be able to give massages again, due to COVID-19 concerns.

“I’m sad because I’m losing everything,” said Nicholson.

According to Huu-ay-aht First Nations Councillor Trevor Cootes,  some First Nations communities are really feeling out in the cold due to COVID-19.

Especially those with businesses that don’t qualify for the national wage subsidy.

In Bamfield, the Huu-ay-aht First Nation employs one-third of the west coast community’s population. Business has plummetted in the tourist destination due to COVID-19. the Huu-ay-aht First Nation ensured those 55 employees are still being paid so that their community and families can survive the economic blow of COVID-19.

“And yes we want to make sure there’s jobs for them in the future,” said Cootes.

First Nations are now urging the federal government to include First Nations-owned businesses in the wage program so that First Nations communities aren’t at a further disadvantage when the recovery from COVID-19 finally begins.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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