Coop Nitaskinan: A Cooperative Focused on the Socioeconomic and Cultural Development of Communities
[Article written in collaboration with Marie Hanquez, Social Economy Advisor]
The Coop Nitaskinan is an Indigenous cooperative registered under the Cooperatives Act. The mission of this social economy enterprise, which was founded in 2015, is to create quality jobs for its current and future members while contributing to the socioeconomic and cultural development of First Nations.
How does the Coop Nitaskinan operate? As a solidarity and worker cooperative, each worker who is a member arrives with their background and expertise, which allows them to offer new services to their clientele. Currently, the team is made up of four people, but the number of employees varies depending on the projects being carried out or the season.
The cooperative offers several services. It carries out project management or fundraising mandates for communities as well as cultural consultation mandates aimed at making content culturally adapted to the Indigenous context. Also, Coop Nistakinan members participate in numerous research projects in collaboration with academic institutions. More recently, the cooperative has also developed a cultural facilitation component.
Promoting Indigenous cultural pride
The cooperative has indeed entrusted itself with the mandate to make Indigenous realizations more visible. It is in this spirit that Coop Nitaskinan launched in 2019 the Espace culturel Onikam (cultural space), which is free and open to everyone. Located in the cooperative’s offices in Shawinigan, the Onikam space presents an exhibition on the history and culture of the Atikamekw Nation, combining both archive photos and contemporary works. A documentation area is also open to visitors, thus giving them the opportunity to access Indigenous works and useful information on Indigenous history and current affairs. Free cultural activities are also offered, such as beading workshops.
The cooperative also promotes the development of Atikamekw art through the Tapiskwan – Atikamekw Art project. An involved collective of Atikamekw artists, elders and professional designers, the Tapiskwan project aims to create contemporary handicrafts inspired by the ancestral heritage of the Aitikamekw Nation, while promoting intergenerational transmission. Launched in 2011, the collective’s activities are now an integral part of Coop Nitaskinan.
Empowering project managers
The workers of the cooperative are more than consultants. When Coop Nitaskinan is involved in a project, its goal is not to take ownership of it. Instead, the goal is to put everything in place so that the project can work well and be managed by the communities while respecting their autonomy. Once the project is well established, the cooperative team withdraws but remains available as needed, for example when the project moves to a higher stage or when special expertise is needed to resolve an issue.
The services offered by the cooperative, guided by an Indigenous vision of development, are not free, but the fees are generally more affordable than those requested by firms that offer similar services. One of Coop Nitaskinan’s goals is to become financially independent to develop and create other projects to be carried out by the Coop in different territories in order to make the vision and voice of the First Nations more visible.
Want to know more about the Coop Nitaskinan? Visit their website at www.coopnitaskinan.com (in French only).
Photo credit: Tapiskwan