5 Ways Indigenous Entrepreneurs are Using Co-operatives
Photo: Elders from the Kici Anishinabek Kananakachiwewat Community Service Co-operative held their first culture camp in 2022.
At Co-operatives First, we support inspiring entrepreneurs across western Canada. From Tataskweyak Cree Nation to Île-à-la-Crosse and Calgary to Cote First Nation we’ve worked on dozens of projects supporting First Nation and Metis co-op projects.
Indigenous entrepreneurs use co-operatives to bring services to their communities, create jobs, and form partnerships. Here are five areas where these entrepreneurs are making waves:
Many Indigenous communities, particularly those in northern or remote locations, face challenges accessing the foods they need. In the northern communities of Ile-a-la-Crosse and Split Lake (home of the Tataskweyak Cree Nation) the situation was complex. Despite having grocery stores operated by the Northwest Company, community members faced high prices, limited selection, and still had to source many goods from the south.
Inspired by the work of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation creating the Old Crow Co-op, entrepreneurs started their own local co-op stores to better meet the needs of their community. Local ownership gives co-op members greater control over the goods on the store’s shelves and keeps profits local — something big corporations aren’t interested in.
Culture and Language Preservation
Many Indigenous languages are at risk of being lost. The Elders who formed the Kici Anishinabek Kananakachiwewat Community Service Co-operative (meaning Elderly Knowledge Keepers) couldn’t stand by and let that happen in their community. The co-op’s seven founding members created the organization to provide land-based activities, Onakawawin language instruction, cultural education, and promote healthy and balanced lifestyles. The co-operative allows them to raise money from supporters, like the Yorkton Tribal Council, to carry out these activities.
It’s difficult for Indigenous artists to compete with mass-produced, imported, cheaper goods that copy Indigenous designs. To combat this trend and ensure Indigenous artists can make a living creating authentic work, artisans in Lac La Biche, Alberta created the Nehiyawaskiy Indigenous Peoples Art Co-op. The co-op brought together artists, the local Friendship Centre, Metis Crossing Interpretive Centre, and Portage College, and leveraged financial support from the Government of Alberta. This multi-stakeholder approach creates a support network around the artists and identifies new avenues to promote these entrepreneurs.
Fishing co-ops serve as a way for fishers to regulate local harvests and preserve fish stocks. In Île-à-la-Crosse, the Big Island Fishermen’s Co-operative identified a big opportunity when it partnered with the Sakitawak Development Corporation. Together the co-op and SDC created Ile-a-la-Crosse Fish Company, a processing plant that supplies walleye and pike to local and southern markets. The plant employs up to 100 workers and supports 50 commercial fishing businesses.
Building a co-operative is an ideal opportunity to bring people together around a common need and forge new partnerships. In Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, the Town, Rural Municipality, and Nekaneet First Nation knew their area lacked daycare spaces and formed a co-op to address the issue. And, in Fraser Lake, BC, community members are working with the Stellat’en First Nation and Nadleh Whut’en First Name to create the Eco-Cooperative Community Services Centre. The co-op’s board hopes to revitalize the region’s economy, providing a multi-purpose facility that will house a maker space, community garden, food businesses, and event space.
All these and more!
From fish plants to food stores and childcare to community centres, Indigenous-led co-operatives are emerging in more sectors of the economy. The co-operative model allows entrepreneurs to work collaboratively to solve problems, capitalize on opportunities, and leverage partnerships. Get in touch with our team of experts to see if a co-op is a good fit for your idea. We provide FREE start-up supports that help take your business from idea to an investment-ready business. Visit Your Way, Together for more information about starting a co-operative on-Nation.