Co-operatives First - Assistance for Ventures

Co-operatives First offers assistance for varying ventures

By Sam Laskaris
Cando Contributor

Nehiyawaskiy Indigenous Peoples Art Co-op

The Nehiyawaskiy Indigenous Peoples Art Co-op, based in Lac La Biche, Alta., includes various artists who promote and sell their goods.

Officials with Co-operatives First pride themselves on doing things a little bit differently.

But as its track record indicates, Co-operatives First, which supports and promotes business development in Indigenous and rural communities throughout western Canada, has a proven way of getting things done.

Just ask those associated with The Food Forest and Learning Centre Co-operative in Viscount, Sask.

Or those with the Indigenous Technical Services Co-operative, headquartered in Regina.

Or the Nehiyawaskiy Indigenous Peoples Art Co-op, based in Lac La Biche, Alta.

Maggie Bluewaters

All three of these groups have benefitted immensely in recent years by working alongside representatives of Saskatoon-based Co-operatives First.

The Food Forest and Learning Centre Co-operative was founded by six women from two families. One of its leaders is Maggie Bluewaters, a Sixties Scoop survivor. 

Maggie Bluewaters helped launch the Food Forest and Learning Centre Co-operative in Viscount, Sask.


“She was trying to reclaim her culture and her heritage,” Trista Pewapisconias, Co-operatives First’s Indigenous Relations Lead said of Bluewaters. “They purchased some land which has food, berries and traditional medicines on it now.”

Co-operatives First assisted Bluewaters’ non-profit co-op with its incorporation.

“We work with each group through incorporation documents,” Pewapisconias said. “We translate the legislation and we help them with their decision making and we answer their questions on terminology.”

Pewapisconias said Co-operatives First is unlike most others. That’s because some groups simply hire lawyers or consultants to deal with their incorporation issues.

But Co-operatives First reps prefer to work directly with groups and welcome their participation and involvement.

“We empower them and get the businesses involved,” said Pewapisconias, who was hired as Co-operatives First’s Business Development lead in January of 2018 but switched to her current job last year. “We actually go through each section (of incorporation documents) and talk them through it.”

The Food Forest and Learning Centre Co-operative was the first project Co-operatives First completed in 2017.

“It’s a non-profit and volunteer based,” Pewapisconias said. “They are still in operation now. And they host things like gardening workshops.”

Meanwhile, the Indigenous Technical Services Co-operative, which includes First Nations and tribal councils throughout Saskatchewan, was already incorporated when it hired Co-operatives First.

“We helped them revise their by-laws in 2018,” Pewapisconias said.

Co-operatives First officials also assisted the co-op after it hired an executive director.

“We also helped them with governance training and setting up their first AGM,” Pewapisconias said.

Pewapisconias added Co-operatives First employees do monitor the activities afterwards of those they have assisted on various projects.

“We do follow up with them,” she said. “All the groups we finish working with we follow up to see if there’s any other work that needs completing.”

Pewapisconias said the work done with the Nehiyawaskiy Indigenous Peoples Art Co-op was also a bit different.

“We helped them with incorporation and by-laws,” she said. “And we also had a governance workshop.”

But work with this Lac La Biche co-op deviated from the norm as it involved a multi-stakeholder co-op.

“It’s one of the few multi-stakeholder ones we’ve worked with,” Pewapisconias said.

This co-op, located in a small northern Alberta town, features artists who established the co-op in part to sell their works.

Cree, Dene and Metis artists from the province are involved with the co-op. Its partners include the local Friendship Centre as well as Metis Crossing, a Metis cultural interpretive centre in Smoky Lake, Alta.

As of the end of 2019, Co-operatives First had managed 91 projects. Besides Saskatchewan, they also work with groups in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba.

They had also assisted 23 co-ops with their incorporation. Plus, they had trained about 2,000 people through online courses and workshops.

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