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    STUDIA GEOGRAPHIA - Issue no. 2 / 2005  

  Abstract:  Inuit Co-operatives: The Formative Years: 1959-1971. The Inuit people have occupied the North American Arctic for approximately six centuries. Their perseverance has been remarkable when one considers the character of the tundra region. The Inuit in Canada have undergone a dramatic cultural metamorphosis since the time of initial contacts with white culture. At the time of the arrival of European explorers, the Inuit had been practicing a hunting-gathering economy that was in harmony with their harsh Arctic surroundings. This economy was based primarily upon the search for marine and land mammals. The Inuit’s solitude, and indeed their self-sufficiency, was summarily undermined when white men entered the Arctic and introduced innovations that, heretofore, were unknown to the host people. Manufactures (tools, weapons, clothing), a diet rich in carbohydrates, monotheistic religions, and contagious diseases were fostered upon the Inuit. Within a decade, these forces had engendered a breakdown in traditional economic and social patterns, and eroded the Inuit’s self-sufficiency. Subsequently, responsibility for the Inuit’s care was placed largely in the hands of missionaries and traders. For more than half of the twentieth century, the Inuit were largely dependent upon these two unpredictable guardians to ensure their very survival. In 1953, the Canadian federal government initiated a series of programs that were designed to eventually eliminate the Inuit’s dependence upon fur trapping and federal relief programs. The Inuit were settled into communities, then were introduced to a number of economic activities based upon traditional skills, including fishing, handicrafts and boat building. Having achieved moderate success from its initial investment, the federal government passed the Co-operative Association Ordinance, in 1959. The Ordinance provided a means for Inuit communities throughout Canada’s Arctic region to reinvent themselves through the establishment of co-operatives. This study chronicles the development of Inuit co-operatives from 1959 through 1971. The establishment of a Northwest Territories co-operative federation, Arctic Co-operatives Limited, in 1972, marked the beginning of the second phase in the evolution of the history of Inuit co-operatives – the beginning of an overt drive toward Inuit home rule.

Key words: Inuit, cooperatives, renewable resources, community services.
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