From Reconciliation to Redistribution

Co-ops on the Road to Right Relations

Kenojuak Ashevak

“It seems trite to say, yet I felt I had witnessed history in the making,” says Len Findlay, remembering his participation on the occasion of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) documents on June 2nd in Ottawa.

“There was a collective sense too, of being part of a justice and reconciliation project bigger than any one person and requiring the best efforts of all.” Len continues. “I walked slowly back to the Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities underway at the University of Ottawa. Neither the sun itself, nor the aggregate insights of all the scholars presenting their work to colleagues assembled, could match the kind of light the TRC and its participants had shed on our national history and an ethical path ahead. I could now be a Canadian in a significantly new way, and would try to be just that.”

According to Len, a professor of English and the Director of Humanities at the University of Saskatchewan, the next step in the process of reconciliation happens through redistribution.  This includes the redistribution of power through changes in governance, access to economic opportunities and education framed and in alignment with Indigenous world views.

Co-ops are taking steps in this direction and their work was well represented at the recent ACE and CASC conference at Congress 2016.

New Indigenous co-ops can embark knowing that they are part of a successful tradition established by Artic co-ops. Their website shares that they had combined revenues of approximately $192 million in 2015 with $8.1 million repaid to members in patronage. One thousand people are employed in a network of 32 co-ops, independently owned and operated by Intuit and Dene. These co-ops operate retail facilities, hotels, construction, arts and crafts production and property rentals.

In Alberta, the Alberta Aboriginal Co-op is stepping into this tradition. Their goal is to create business opportunities that will advance the economic, social and environmental needs of First Nations and Metis people in Alberta. They are particularly interested in enhancing Aboriginal competitiveness, retail opportunities and exploring possibilities with renewable energy.

In 2008, Indigenous leaders approached the CEO of Affinity Credit Union for his help in developing a bank that could fund the economic development of their communities. After examining the options, Affinity, in collaboration with Indigenous communities, decided to extend their governance model to include Indigenous peoples, giving them two seats on the Board and access to $5 million in capital and $50 million in liquidity for business development.

Affinity, with fellow credit unions, Assiniboine and Vancity,  have together created a joint statement on Reconciliation:
“We recognize that Reconciliation is a journey, undertaken in concert with partners. We will listen and learn, with courage and determination. We are honoured to recommit ourselves to a journey so vital to the future of our country, and we invite all individuals, organizations and governments to join in this journey of healing and reconciliation.”

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Judith Harris of the University of Winnipeg shared that children in the care of social services is a billion dollar industry in Manitoba (likewise across Canada). She and her colleague Bernice Cyr are recommending a  multi stakeholder co-op model where Indigenous families and communities are part of a wrap-around model of care being extended to vulnerable children.

As is evident in these examples, the strength of the co-operative model lies in its ability to achieve both social and economic ends. And thus, may well prove itself to be a unique resource to the work of redistribution, the next chapter of reconciliation.

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