By Audra Krueger from Co-operatives First
Co-operatives are a way for people to work together to better their community and reach their common economic, social, and cultural goals. Indigenous people have practiced this community approach to economic development from time immemorial. But colonialization has impacted every aspect of Indigenous society, including historic economic development practices. Although the value of working co-operatively has not been lost, supports to create co-operative businesses aren’t readily available.
To remedy this, a team came together in 2022 to start the Native Communities Cooperative Development training project (NCCD). The project supports the growth of co-operatives and their ability to add value, create markets, facilitate food security, and build prosperity in Indigenous communities.
The Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) provided funding to the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF) to develop the project, with a team of consultants. Also funded in part by USDA Rural Development’s (RD) Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant program, phase one of the NCCD project brought together a dozen participants from several Native communities. The students take part in weekly classes that cover topics like building trust, facilitation, cultural dynamics, and values around money. They also learn how to organize a steering committee, and how to map the physical, natural, social, and economic assets of their communities, in addition to the basics of the co-operative business structure.
The classes provide space for participants to incorporate individual, community, and cultural values into building a co-operative. The topics encourage participants to take individual, community, and abundance-based approaches to community building. The value of relationships, self-care, individual knowledge, individual skills, and facilitating and discovering the assets in their own communities and others are important to lay the groundwork for community-based initiatives.
The development of the training has been led by Pamela Standing of the Minnesota Indigenous Business Alliance. The team includes Bijiibah Begaye of The Cooperative Catalyst of New Mexico, Trista Pewapisconias of Co-operatives First in Western Canada, and others from the co-operative development community. This team from across North America is dedicated to Indigenous communities, co-operatives, and business development.
The planning group identified that co-op development training has historically been taught from a colonial context and has shown that when Indigenous communities are included in co-operative training, Indigenous values are central in the methodology.
This initiative shows the importance of providing training that is built by and for the communities it serves. It emphasizes the differing values, cultures, traditions and shared elements to build communities, and acknowledges that Indigenous people are experts in knowing the needs, services, and abilities of their own communities.