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.
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 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 each other.
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, Ontario.
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 Co-ops).