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The first "Eskimo" cooperative in Canada was formed by the Inuit of Kangiqsualujjuaq (George River) in 1959. They obtained a loan of $12,500 from the federal government which was used to buy fishing equipment.
Within two years, cooperatives were operating in Kuujjuaq (Fort Chimo), Kangirsuk (Payne Bay), Puvirnituq (Povungnituk), Port Burwell in the Northwest Territories and Kuujjuarapik (Great Whale River).
The federal government provided the impetus and guidance during the early days and the emphasis was on producer cooperatives rather than on the multi-purpose cooperatives which are evident today. One exception was the Puvirnituq Cooperative which was established as a result of the efforts of Father A.P. Steinmann with the assistance of the cooperative movement in Quebec and the Quebec Government.
At the time these cooperatives were being formed, the northern economy was very different from what it is today. The Hudson's Bay Company was the only business operating in the northern communities and most of the Inuit lived in camps scattered along the coasts. Very few communities had schools, and medical facilities were rudimentary. Supplies were received once a year by ship because most communities had no year-round service. The diet of the Inuit consisted mainly of meat and fish obtained from the local environment. The production of sculpture, crafts, furs and eiderdown, added to limited wage employment, provided income to pay for the few imported items which were required.
Although each co-op had its board of directors, in the early days of the
cooperatives most of the decision making and supervision of operations
was done by government employees, by interested local clergy or by other
white residents. Over the ensuing years the Inuit have been trained to
control all aspects of their cooperatives. This has happened in so short a
period due to the remarkable adaptability of the people concerned and to
the support they have received over the years. One of the major factors in
the development of the cooperative system in Nunavik has been their
Federation. This organization was set up at the request of the co-ops
which were operating in five communities in Nunavik.
La Fédération des coopératives du Nouveau-Québec was incorporated on May 20th, 1967 and four weeks later on June 15th, the organizational meeting was held in Lévis, Québec. This meeting brought together Inuit and Cree delegates from five communities. At the end of six weeks' discussion, they had worked out the by-laws of the Federation and established the objectives under which the Federation has operated since that time. Since 1967, cooperatives have been established in all the Inuit communities of Nunavik, and the cooperative movement has been the most important force in involving the local people in the developments which have occurred.