The Northeast Aboriginal Business Centre says it will shut its doors at the end of the month.
The centre announced the decision today, saying continued provincial and federal cuts have made it impossible to keep the doors open to aboriginal entrepreneurs looking to start up businesses in the region.
“It’s a very sad day,” said Executive Director Paulette Flamond.
“It was a very hard decision from our board of directors to say, ‘We need to close.'”
The centre will close June 25.
The centre opened 13 years ago, said Flamond, with a $750,000 yearly budget that was funded by both the province and the federal government, including funds from the federal Western Economic Diversification fund, and the provincial Treaty Negotiations Office.
It’s been providing a host of services for aboriginal businesses, from access to funding, business planning, financial counselling, and human resource training, to marketing support.
Flamond says the organization has helped 100 businesses gain a foothold by securing $8 million in start-up and expansion funding, and another $1.5 million for training in business, health and wellness programming.
Today, Flamond says the centre is trying to do that all on a $100,000 yearly budget with monies it receives only from the provincial Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
But that amounts to only about $8,000 a month, which is barely enough to meet its monthly costs of $20,000, according to Flamond.
“The last 13 years we’ve been building capacity, but we have no resources. We can no longer keep operating,” Flamond said.
The closure will impact the centre’s three remaining staff members, down from seven when it opened, according to Flamond.
This isn’t the first time the centre has faced a possible closure.
In 2012, the centre lost its $125,000 grant from Western Economic Diversification Canada, and in 2013, announced it would be forced to close without an injection of cash.
The province stepped in that year when it announced the centre would receive a portion of $500,000 of funds as part of the Aboriginal Entrepreneurship Skills Development Program.
Still, Flamond says the centre isn’t getting enough funding to meet increasing demand for its services, particularly as LNG and Site C developments continue to progress.
The centre held a two-day training workshop in January with 30 entrepreneurs and has helped 13 clients navigate their way to starting businesses this spring.
Flamond says the centre has been applying for federal and provincial funding to keep its doors open, but has not received word if its applications have been approved.
Being careful with her words, Flamond says the silence is an sign that governments do not want First Nations participating in the economy.
“Why? When aboriginal people create wealth, they’re able to defend and speak up for themselves,” she said.
“This government does not want aboriginal people to get ahead.”
Flamond says the centre has received plenty of support from industry for training initiatives, but notes they aren’t in the “bricks and mortar” business of helping to establish new businesses.
“There’s lots of opportunities for everybody in the region. Aboriginal businesses will continue to flourish because of our local economy,” she said.
“But aboriginal people that want to get into or expand their business, they wont have resources.”
We have put out calls to both MLA Pat Pimm and the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
We will update this story as those calls are returned.