With over 9,000 co-operatives spread across its provinces, Canada is also the host some of the world’s most northerly co-operatives. These are members of Arctic Co-operatives, a federation of 31 co-operative enterprises in Canada’s Arctic Community.
The community owned co-operatives in the Arctic are multi-purpose businesses that provide a wide range of services to their members and communities. Services provided by local co-ops include retail stores, hotel and tourism operations, cable television, arts and craft marketing, fuel distribution, construction & heavy equipment services, property rental and agency type services.
Co-op members in Nunavut and the Northwest territories encompass a wide variety of cultures, dialects and traditional knowledge. People across Nunavut speak English, Inukitituk and French. Members in the Northwest Territories belong to a variety of Dene Nations, some of whom still hunt and trap for a living.
“People living in a harsh landscape as unforgiving as the Arctic need to co-operate to survive. This core principle has been part of life for the Inuit and Dene for thousands of years and when their world changed in the 20th century, it became even more important,” explained Lilian Choi, communications manager of Arctic Co-operatives.
The first northern co-operatives took shape in Canada in the 1950s and 60s, when producer groups based on the values of their own traditional societies were established.
“In 1972, these co-ops formalized a long discussed idea of creating a federation to provide much-needed support services such as marketing, purchasing and accounting. Eventually, the organisation evolved into today’s Arctic Co-operatives Limited,” she said.
The remote location of co-operative retail stores meant that they have had to build a logistical system that includes a wide range of delivery methods.
The existing sharing culture played a key role in the success of co-operatives in the Arctic community. It has also recently adopted the .coop domain. Said Lilian Choi: “This strategic change creates opportunities to join hands with Co-ops around the world to strengthen the cooperative movement by promoting our unified cooperative identity.”
In 2012 member co-operatives reported total revenues of USD $196.7m. The co-ops are owned and controlled by their 23,600 members and they also employ 900 people in the region.