Born in a humble log building, movement now a multi-million dollar enterprise

The little co-op that could


In a 40-year span, Nunavik's cooperative movement has grown from a log-hewn co-op store in George River and the tiny association of Puvirnitumiut Katujjuiyut Immiguutut (the people of Puvirnituq working for themselves) to a multi-million dollar commercial enterprise.

Last weekend, the Fédération des cooperatives du Nouveau-Québec celebrated its 1967 establishment as a cooperative association with a banquet at the Château Vaudreuil, a posh lakeside hotel near Montreal.

The five-course banquet, served to 250 in a huge pavilion under a crystal chandelier worthy of the Titanic, testified to the prosperity and size of today's cooperative network, which has stores in every Nunavik community and offices in Baie d'Urfé near Montreal.

"I never expected it to be this big. We had a solid foundation then, when we started as a small group of people. This solid foundation has carried us through to today," Mark Ammamatuak, the president of the FCNQ, told the gathering.

To mark the anniversary, the FCNQ launched a book, in English and Inuttitut, documenting the FCNQ's development from 1967 to today.

"A New Way of Sharing: a personal history of the cooperative movement in Nunavik" is the work of Aliva Tulugak, a long-time FCNQ supporter who is the son of the Povungnituk Co-op Association's first manager, and Peter Murdoch, the FCNQ's general manager between 1967 and 1997.

Inuit Child First, Indigenous Services Canada

Their 287-page book offers insiders' memories about how the cooperative movement arose during a period when "Inuit would help each other in any way they could," but were faced with cultural change, illness and despair.

"We felt we were losing our old way of life and with it the ability to control our own survival. We felt more and more under the control of ‘bosses' that knew little of our culture and way of life. When we began to hear about cooperatives, it seemed to us that this system would give us a way to regain some of the control we previously had," writes Tulugak.

The book pairs scores of early photos and artwork with stories from Inuit and Qallunaat who worked for the co-ops. Together, these produce a historical record that examines events from different angles.

The style suits the dynamism of the cooperative movement, which sprang up simultaneously in several places in the Eastern Arctic during the late 1950s and 1960s.

The book preserves a wealth of information from a time when communications were scanty and co-op supporters toiled under propane lamps in unheated premises.

The book's many photos preserve the memory of people and places that have changed beyond recognition.

Every child matters, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Aerial photos of Povungnituk in the 1950s show only handful of buildings. Today, the community of 1,500 (now called Puvirnituq) is a sprawling showcase for the success of the co-operative association, which owns a hotel, the courthouse, and a shopping centre.

"A New Way of Sharing" produces a few surprises, too. Many pages are devoted to a little-told conflict from the 1970s over how to market Inuit carvings. At that time, the FCNQ marketed better-quality carvings to retailers along with lower-end pieces, so they could sell as many carvings as possible.

But a group called the "Inuk Foundation" apparently thought it would be better to market only the higher-end carvings and tried to wrest these away from the FCNQ.

The FCNQ won that battle. However, during the 1980s, after the market for Inuit carvings nose-dived, the FCNQ was forced to alter its purchasing and marketing efforts to remain competitive.

"A New Way of Sharing" also shows a carving made by Taamusi Tulugak, the first co-op manager in Puvirnituq, to raise money for Inuit Tunngavingat Nunamini, the organization formed in the 1970s to oppose the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

The carving shows an Inuit man and a despairing youth. "My greed for the white man's wealth has turned me from my ancient ways," says a text accompanying the carving. The youth vows "to regain what you have lost."

But overall, "A New Way of Sharing" does not dwell on this conflict, which divided the co-ops and JBNQA supporters for 20 years. There are only a few veiled references to the co-ops' own internal disputes and a swipe at the food mail program's failure to lower the cost of living in Nunavik. The book focuses more on the struggles of those who built the FCNQ.

As well, there's some reflection on the present.

"It is my feeling that we are losing sight of the real motivation that resulted in the development of the cooperatives during the early days," Murdoch writes.

The book ends with call to strengthen Nunavik by working towards a strong economy, based on the talents of Nunavimmiut: "when we look back on our efforts over the past years and recall the many battles we have endured, are we looking at the end of a fantasy or the beginning of a new way of life as Canadian Inuit?"

To order "A New Way of Sharing" (also available in a French-Inuttitut version "Parta­ger Autrement") contact the FCNQ at 514-457-9371, ext. 336.

Nunavik's co-ops: a brief history

This past weekend, Nunavik's cooperative network, the Fédération des cooperatives du Nouveau-Québec, celebrated the 40th anniversary of its incorporation on May 20, 1967.

Below, a brief history of its growth:

  • 1959: the first "Eskimo" co-op in George River (Kangiqsualujjuaq) receives a $12,500 grant from the federal government to buy fishing equipment;
  • 1960: Father André Steinmann, along with Peter Murdoch (then a Hudson Bay manager), spearheads a sculptor‘s association in Povungnituk (Puvirnituq) in 1958, which is officially formed in 1960 as a co-op;
  • 1961: cooperatives are operating in Fort Chimo (Kuujjuaq), Payne Bay (Kangirsuk), Povungnituk (Puvirnituq), and Great Whale River (Kuujjuaraapik);
  • 1963: the first Arctic cooperatives meeting is held in Frobisher Bay (Iqaluit);
  • 1965: Canadian Arctic Producers is formed;
  • 1966: Cooperatives meet in Povungnituk. Three new co-ops are founded in Inoudjuak (Inukjuak), Ivujivik and Sugluk (Salluit);
  • May 20, 1967: the Fédération des cooperatives du Nouveau-Québec is officially created and the FCNQ holds its first board meeting on June 15;
  • 1969: FCNQ's member coops' total sales reach $3 million;
  • 1973: FCNQ headquarters moves from near Quebec City to Montreal;
  • 1978: FCNQ supports cooperative associations in Povungnituk, Ivujivik and Salluit in rejecting the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement;
  • 1987: FCNQ starts gas and oil distribution in Nunavik;
  • 1989: FCNQ's headquarters move to a new building in Baie d'Urfé;
  • 2004: FCNQ produces $140 million in sales, and possesses $64 million in assets;
  • 2006: FCNQ employs 270 full-time workers and 54 seasonal workers in Nunavik, 120 full-time workers in Montreal;
  • 2007: the FCNQ operates retail stores in all Nunavik communities, provides banking, sealift services, post offices, cable and internet services (in Puvirnituq only), management training, staff development and auditing services, markets Inuit art across Canada and around the world, operates hotels and a travel agency, runs fishing and hunting camps, and takes on construction projects;
  • 2008: FCNQ opens credit unions in five communities, builds an addition to the residence at the Kattiniq's Raglan mine, and buys and operates its own jet.

Nunavik Co-op honours supporters

At its 40th anniversary celebration last weekend in Montreal, the Fédération des cooperatives du Nouveau-Quebec honoured many of the cooperative movement's most devoted supporters, including former FCNQ presidents, its original board members and long-time employees and store managers.

Special mention went to:

  • the late Paulusi Napartuk, the FCNQ's first president
  • Paulusi Kasudluak
  • Jackusie Ittukalak
  • Aliva Tulugak
  • Mark Ammamatuak
  • Willie Etook
  • Eli Elijassiapik
  • Robbie Dick
  • the late Charlie Mark
  • George Koneak
  • Thomassiapik Sivuaarpik
  • Aisara Tukalak
  • Sarah Grey
  • Elijah Grey
  • Aipili Napartuk
  • Siasi Saviadjuk
  • Elijah Petagumskum
  • Mina Weetaltuk
  • Bobby Snowball
  • Tommy Grey
  • Peter Aupaluk
  • Peter and Lucille Murdoch
  • and Lukasi Nappaaluk.

The FCNQ also recognized its many business partners in southern Quebec, such as Desgagnés TransArtik, Aon, the Royal Bank of Canada, Investissement Québec, Shell Canada, Co-operators insurance cooperative and the Caisse d'économie solidaire Desjardins.

The Caisse d'économie solidaire Desjardins announced it is providing $2,000 scholarships to one post-secondary student in each of Nunavik's 14 communities.

The 40th anniversary festivities will continue throughout the coming year, with drawings for prizes from Matelas Mirabel, Honda, Suzuki and Home Hardware within the individual co-ops.

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