While the main business sectors of Canada are striving to recover from the recent market downturn, those in the North are not only growing, but are aiming to make their presence felt in the South.

They managed to achieve this through two successful Northern Lights Trade Shows and Conferences – the first in 2008 in Ottawa, and the second held January 27-30 in Montreal.

This unique endeavour details the many business and trade opportunities of the Eastern Arctic and the North – specifically Nunavut, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut and Labrador. These regions include mining and mineral operations, oil and gas, Northern transportation, Artic sovereignty, fishing and cultural industries (including carvings, jewelry and sealskin products).

Another goal of the show is to unite entrepreneurs within these vast regions, which are so isolated from one another, says David Hunt, President of Mikupishan Moktech, located in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. “I started the first Northern Lights show, which was very successful and a big factor in selling products.”

An experienced Newfoundland businessman who sells wood and steel products to the North, he says, “People in the South don’t recognize us as a big factor in selling products. Everybody buys from Montreal and Toronto. We in the North sell to our own people. We sell to each other and we make our companies bigger this way.”

Hunt observes that the Natives need help to get their businesses moving “and what we do in the organization is make this happen”. He himself has been working with Natives for the last 15 years and “I’ve made a few rich.”

There are many problems that hinder Native integration into the vast Canadian business community and Hunt dwells upon them. “They’re workers and don’t understand how white people operate. They have to be warned on how ruthless some business people can be. Some are very motivated, but they don’t have the education they should have, and that includes computer skills. We’re trying to educate them in the school systems in Labrador with computer centres, chemistry labs and other skills.”

The Montreal show, Hunt pointed out is twice as good as the last one. It cost $l.2 million and sponsors included government agencies and several Native enterprises. It showcased the products of 16 Aboriginal nations in 150 booths.

The main industry in the North is the mining of nickel, iron ore, uranium and diamonds. Tourism is second, but arts-and-crafts is also a big item. Many of the large mines in Labrador are owned the Brazilian company Vale, which mines iron ore and nickel.

The nine Cree communities were represented by their different Cree-language radio stations. They do local news announcements, music, talk shows and stories of their lives related by the Elders, explained Wemindji station manager Abraham Matches. He wants to broadcast on the internet and on TV in Cree, “to demonstrate how snow shoes and other crafts are made.” He also wants to strengthen the Cree language, since the youth are “mixing Cree and English.”

A real success story is that of Charlie Watt, Jr, an Inuit living in Kuujjuaq, Quebec, and owner of Iqaluppijait Arctic Char Products. He used to work for a hunting-and-trapping association, but quit about six months ago to start his own business with the assistance and guidance of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.

The first day of the exhibit, Watt displayed a cooler packed with 60 kilos of smoked arctic char, priced at $50/kilo. By 3pm he had sold out, and several distributors attending the show expressed interest in marketing the product.

Watt, who always loved fishing, goes out alone with a team of six huskies to get his catch, and smokes the char uncooked. He laughs as he says nothing is wasted. His huskies dine on what isn’t used. His investment comprised 20% of his own money, and the balance of $100,000 was provided by the Economic Development Agency. He also borrowed small loans, making a total of $120,000 for the entire investment.

“This show is opening doors for opportunities and establishing contacts,” Watt says thoughtfully. “My goal is to continue doing what I love – fishing.”

Nunavik BioSciences, a subsidiary company of Makavik Corporation, the successful Inuit enterprise that owns numerous companies including First Air and Air Inuit, is marketing a line of organic beauty products. Among its various items, there is a night cream selling at $90 for 50 grams. Business development manager Yves Bellefleur says that these products are of interest in France and other European countries.

At the Labrador Hospitality Night, where arctic char and other seafood was offered, it was declared that the seal hunt would continue, followed by loud applause and happy cheers.