A while ago, Mistissini refused to give Northern Stores a grant to renovate and upgrade the store in that community.

Soon after Northern Stores closed down its Mistissini outlet.

Since then Mistissini-ites have had to go out of the community to get furniture, clothing, hardware, toys and other dry goods. That will change March 20.

Don MacLeod, Mistissini’s local economic development officer, was happy to tell The Nation about the community’s new co-op store. “Chisasibi already has co-op store and members enjoy the benefits it brings both to the community and members. Mistissini band members at numerous meetings have requested that a store to fill Northern’s shoes was a community priority,” said MacLeod.

When Mistissini first thought of getting a co-op store they thought of approaching Rona, but learned that Rona already had a deal going with Ferlac and they felt they would be competing with themselves. Ferlac and Western, the two Chibougamau businesses that have benefited from the lack of a dry goods store in Mistissini, are a little worried about the new competition, says MacLeod.

After the no-go with Rona, Mistissini approached Cotter Canada, representing about 500 individual businesses across Canada, who banded together to increase their buying power to achieve high volume discounts. This organization has been around about five years and Mistissini is glad to count on their expertise in training and business. Cotter Canada was first noticed by Lawrence Jimikin, who was also looking at the possibility of opening a co-op in Nemaska. Waswanipi and Ouje-Bougoumou are also looking into the idea of co-op stores in their communities.

Mistissini’s co-op is located in the same building that Northern Stores wanted Mistissini to renovate with a grant of about $700,000. Mistissini has done the renovations for a little under $400,000. The new co-op plans to sell clothing and footwear, furniture and household supplies, hardware and sporting goods, auto parts and accessories, etc., as well as being the local post office. It will have seven full-time and two part-time staff. Anyone can be a member at a cost of $200.

To start up the co-op, Mistissini received money from the band, Aboriginal Business Canada, loans, a line of credit from James Bay Eeyou Corporation and membership fees. Estimates put the first year’s revenue at $1.5 million.

“In order for local businesses to survive, people in the communities have to shop there. That way money stays in the local economy helping to build our economy,” said MacLeod. “We Crees have to start looking this seriously, supporting our own businesses for the better of all. I don’t mean to say that Crees won’t be competitive, we’ll definitely be that, but remember: every time a dollar is spent in our community it goes towards salaries of local residents and is turned around. Money spent outside is gone and helps out another economy. Buy Cree!”

For information on membership contact Buckley Petawabano or Donald MacLeod at (418) 923-3461.