Project 3e

Project Completed, December 2009

The Role of Cooperative Enterprise in the Social Economy of Repulse Bay, Nunavut


Research Team
Frances Abele, School of Public Policy and Administration, Carleton University (Project Lead) 
frances_abele@carleton.ca
Jennifer Alsop, School of Public Policy and Administration, Carleton University (Masters Student) Email: jenalsop@gmail.com

Completed Paper: The Role of Co-operative Enterprise in the Social Economy of Repulse Bay, Nunavut

PowerPoint Presentation in Iqaluit at the Nunavut Social Economy Summit
 

Paper Introduction

For a period of about 25 years, the Federal bureaucracy, through the Northern Affairs Department pursued a policy of the development of community-based co-operatives in Canada's Arctic. The policy window for northern co-operative development was borne from the expansion of the welfare state into the north in post-war Canada. In the face of the collapse of the fur industry and declining caribou populations, Federal officials pursued policies by which Inuit, Dene and Inuvialuit populations could realize a measure of economic self-sufficiency. Since the first community co-operative was incorporated in George River, Nunavik in 1959, the system of community co-operatives in the north has experienced remarkable change and growth, echoing the great changes the Inuit have endured during the same period.

The first portion of this paper will focus upon the role that co-operative development has had in northern history in order to situate the current conditions, and continued influence of the Arctic Co-operatives network. The second portion of this paper will outline the community economy of Repulse Bay, in the wage, government, traditional and third economy sectors. The third portion of this paper will outline the role that the Naujat Co-op has within the social economy of Repulse Bay, Nunavut. Comparisons will be made to operations at the Kissarvik Co-op in Rankin Inlet. This case study will provide a snapshot of the operations of Arctic Co-operatives Ltd in a small, non-decentralized community in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut, in order to obtain an understanding of the current challenges, and apparent opportunities facing community co-operatives and the ACL Federation at large.

Repulse Bay exhibits high unemployment and a high level of participation in "traditional" endeavors such as hunting, carving and sewing. The economy of Repulse is decidedly "mixed", and with many relying upon social assistance, networks of extended families within the community provide the support for basic needs such as food, shelter, child-care and even clothing. Development efforts in the north have often overlooked the important role that the mixed economy plays in sustaining the daily needs of arctic communities. Yet, families continue to survive in large part to the networks of extended families, which lend each other support when such support is needed. In addition to the mixed economy, the co-op plays a key economic and development role within this community, a role which will be discussed in the second-half of this paper. First, however, a discussion of the political philosophies which frame northern policy issues will be undertaken, and a short a short summary of Canadian co-operative law will familiarize readers to the rules and legislation that guide the development of co-operatives in the Territories.



Description

The objective of this research is to produce a study of the changing role of the co-operative sector in a community in Nunavut, as it adapts to new and evolving environmental, governance and economic realities. In focusing upon the co-operative as a tool of economic organization in these communities, the student plans to determine how the 'mixed economy' of Repulse Bay may be transforming in the face of broader economic and environmental change. The term 'mixed economy' is defined as an economy in which the household rather than the individual, is the prime unit of study, in economic terms.

The project will be completed in three phases. The first involves a literature review on Canadian northern co-operative policy, as well as research on the region of Nunavut in which Repulse Bay is located. This research will include anthropological accounts of the Avalik Inuit. The second portion of the research will involve visiting the village of Repulse Bay and administering a community-wide household questionnaire, and interviews with key community representatives. The third phase of the research will involve analyzing and compiling all data collected into a research paper. The field work portion of the research will occur in August 2009.

This research involves the compilation of the history of the co-op, and perhaps of the wider community for use by the community in the Naujaat school.  Additionally, research will feed into a chapter on the role of the co-op in the social economy of Nunavut, for the book being developed by Dr. Frances Abele.

Methodology

Two lines of investigation were used in this project. First, a literature review was used to develop an understanding of federal northern development policy and the history of co-operative development in northern Canada. Secondly, research interviews in Repulse Bay and Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, in summer 2009 were conducted with community members, government officials, representatives of development corporations, and officials of the Naujat and Kissarvik Co-ops. The interviews were semi-structured and iterative, focusing on the individual's role in the community, perspective on the role of the co-op, and views about what is most needed for the economy to grow.

Conclusion

Conclusion Since the first community co-operative was incorporated in George River, Nunavik in 1959, the system of community co-operatives in the north has experienced remarkable change and growth, echoing the great changes the Inuit have endured during the same period. The gradual decentralization of power from Ottawa to the NWT and Nunavut, with accompanying approaches to economic development, have put northern territories on a trajectory away from a colonial, "governance from afar" approach, to one in which Inuit hold the reigns of political, and increasingly, economic power in decision-making. This paper has focused upon the role that co-operative development has had within the historical trajectory of Canada's north, in order to situate the current conditions, and continued influence of the ACL network on small, remote communities in Nunavut. The development of co-operatives in Canada's arctic was a policy decision by the Federal government, which contained the seeds of a future in which Inuit would take greater control over decision-making in the arctic and the economic development therein. Recent focus upon the composition of the mixed economy of small northern communities is a de-colonized approach to community development which will hopefully ensure that policy decisions in the future focus upon the inherent strengths of these communities, rather than what they may be missing, in strict neo-classical economic terms.

The economy of Repulse Bay, along with various components of of the social economy, made up of the various services and informal methods of wealth distribution, have been described in order facilitate an understanding of the context in which these co-operatives operate. Repulse Bay exhibits high unemployment and great participation in "traditional" endeavors such as hunting, carving and sewing. The economy of Repulse is decidedly "mixed", and with many relying upon social assistance, networks of extended families within the community provide the support for basic needs such as food, shelter, child-care and even clothing. While the hamlet is certainly the provider of services and the economic
engine of the community, the co-op can be considered the development engine, with 4 construction projects either completed or in process in Repulse over the past 3 years.

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