Yukon’s business survey has underrepresented First Nation business ownership, says the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce and a former government statistician.
The 2015 survey pegs First Nation business ownership at a paltry 0.3 to 7 per cent of total Yukon businesses for Whitehorse and rural areas respectively. First Nations make up an average 23 per cent of the total Yukon population.
“We think it’s underrepresented, absolutely,” said Lynn Hutton, president of the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce and Trondek Hwech’in’s Chief Isaac Group.
“We’re trying to figure out our GDP contribution to the Yukon, so we need an accurate picture,” Hutton said. “That’s why we will soon be sending our own people out into communities and utilizing First Nation development corporations to get better numbers,” she added.
“It’s really important for our governments as well as our development corps to know that information, especially when we have contracts and subcontracts that we want to do. We want to give all of our citizens an opportunity.
“Really, we know each other. It’s family – we can probably get that information relatively easily,” she added.
Paul Gruner, general manager of Dakwakada Capital Investments, which invests on behalf of the Champagne and Aishihik Trust, is currently advising the First Nation chamber on statistics gathering, the funding for which is currently under negotiation with the Yukon government. Hutton said the Yukon government has been very cooperative with the First Nation chamber working on its own data.
Greg Finnegan, who was chief of the Yukon Bureau of statistics for four years, agrees the current statistics need what he calls “ground-truthing.”
“Sometimes you need to get on the ground to see if it’s right,” he said. “Go in and ask the nation and see what businesses are owned.” He noted entrepreneurs like non-incorporated handymen, women working alongside trappers or doing needle-work through a website may be overlooked because they may not be on the business register.
Counting businesses that are co-owned and partnerships also present challenges. Hutton pointed out that the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City is partly owned by private real estate firm Northern Vision Development, which is itself 40 per cent First Nation owned. A similar situation exists for Air North.
“Generally speaking people don’t realize that in some of those large companies, just how much aboriginal capital is influencing them,” Gruner said.
Given that First Nation business statistics have been consistently low over the last few years, “either there’s a problem in how we measure or it really is low. Either way we need to know why,” Finnegan said.
Gary Brown, statistics manager at the Yukon Bureau of Statistics, said that the most recent survey, conduced last summer, asked business owners to self-identify, which doesn’t always happen. He confirmed call-outs are strictly based on the business registry, which potentially leaves out entrepreneurs. “But we don’t have anything else to measure on,” Brown said, citing a previous lack of collaboration with individual First Nations.
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