To understand how the co-operatives developed
in the north, we must first look at the history of the
Inuit, Dene and Metis people our Co-ops serve.
The first limited contact the aboriginal people of the
Northwest Territories and Nunavut had with other cultures
took place more than 300 years ago when European explorers
ventured into the Canadian Arctic. This first contact
was very limited but it was the start of major changes
in the way of life of northerners. Over the next 250 years,
our contact increased with explorers, whalers and later,
with traders and missionaries.
About 50 years ago, things began to change very quickly
for the Inuit, Dene and Metis people of the Arctic. Health
and education services were started in many areas. With
these new services and the interest in education, communities
began to develop. People that had lived a nomadic life
style for thousands of years started to move to the locations
where services were available.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s legal businesses were
formed and community-owned co-operatives became the first
locally owned and controlled business enterprises in our
communities. In 2009 the Co-op System celebrated 50 years
since the first incorporation of a co-operative. The co-operative
principles and structure that we adopted in our new businesses
were very close to that of our sharing culture.
Our members did not want people from outside their communities
coming in and establishing businesses to provide services;
we wanted to develop the services ourselves. We also wanted
to keep the profits from our businesses and use those
them to develop new and better services for our members
and provide employment within our communities. The Co-operative
Model was the best way for us to meet these goals.
Our traditional way of life was often the basis of starting
our co-operatives. Arts and craft production, fur harvesting
and commercial fisheries are examples of the traditional
activities that were the basis of the early co-operatives.
Later, our co-operatives expanded into retail stores to
meet the consumer needs of our member/owners. We became
involved in operating hotels to create employment for
community members and to retain control over the tourism
sector. Co-operatives also became involved in operating
post offices, freight hauling operations, airline agencies
and coffee shops. Co-operatives became involved in residential
and commercial real estate ventures. In recent years,
co-operatives have become involved in providing cable
television services in many communities in the Arctic.
As the remote co-operatives expanded and became more complex,
co-op leaders saw a need for increased levels of service
and technical support to run their businesses. In keeping
with their tradition of working together, the co-operatives
formed a number of new service co-operatives. These new
co-op federations enabled the small co-operatives to assist
Canadian Arctic Producers (CAP) was the first federation
established in the mid-60s. Originally located in Ottawa,
this organization today markets the art and craft products
created by our members from its showroom in Mississauga,
The Canadian Arctic Co-operative Federation came next
in 1972. This federation enabled our local co-ops to consolidate
their buying power for the purchase of products for their
retail stores and to also provide services such as accounting,
audit, education and management support to help the co-operatives
to improve business efficiencies.
In 1981 Canadian Arctic Producers Co-operative Limited
and Canadian Arctic Co-operative Federation Limited joined
together to form Arctic Co-operatives Limited (Arctic