Home > Development of Government Services in the Arctic > We Call It Survival > The Co-operative alternative

Photo Frobisher Bay 1972 couleur

The Co-operative alternative

Abraham Okpik
That same summer [in 1959] there were people going to George River surveying the possibility of maybe setting up a co-op in Northern Quebec. It’s called Kangiqsualujjuaq now, but it was called George River at the time, on Ungava Bay. They had people working with the co-op movement, but the Inuit didn’t really understand. They made movies at the National Film Board about how to start one. … The co-ops were growing. They had one in Cape Dorset, too. At that time it used to handle carvings. That is how it all started, with crafts. …When the real thing started to happen, people became aware that they could do their own thing, with proper leadership and proper training. Some Inuit did it on their own. Our Inuit culture has what you call in your language, a socialistic way of life!
In the early 1960s, some priests and representatives from co-ops in Northern Quebec, as well as RCMP staff, got together to talk about co-ops and how they could help with social problems in the North.

The co-ops started out as craft collectives, for selling carvings and prints – Abe remembers the early carvings to be some of the most powerful he’s ever seen.

Today, the co-op movement is very strong in the North, and some housing co-ops have done very well. Others suffered from bad management and did not survive. The co-op system is in keeping with the community spirit among the Inuit, and they understand the logic that “It is not going to get you everything now, but in the future you will be able to become more powerful.” Abe speaks of the necessity for people in the North to come together, instead of remaining divided.