Dear friends, Open Letter to Winnipeg Re: NEECHI COMMONS
This letter is being circulated by the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation on behalf of the signatories listed below. These individuals are active in a cross section of co-operative and community economic development organizations as well as in universities.
The letter is intended to let you know about a remarkable sister Co-operative that is blazing a trail in empowerment for its members and social justice in the community. A Co-op doing such principled work that it elevates the name of co-operative enterprise and by reflection enhances all of our reputations. We are talking about Neechi Foods Co-operative in Winnipeg (865 Main Street, at Euclid). This Co-op needs your patronage and support.
Louise Champagne, the president of the Co-op and long-time leader of the enterprise, shepherding it through more than 23 years of operations and meeting all challenges, recently accepted the 2013 Excellence in Aboriginal Business Leadership Award from the Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba, on behalf of the Co-op. In her acceptance speech Louise made the following comments:
“Neechi Foods Co-op Ltd. is a worker cooperative. This is a form of economic democracy that encourages staff to develop a sense of business ownership. Neechi means “friend”, “sister” or “brother” in Cree and Ojibwa.
On March 19 this year (2013) we held the Grand Opening of Neechi Commons, our beautiful, 30,000 square foot, community business complex at 865 Main Street, for which we received a Green Globes award for high environmental standards. Previously we operated a nearby, small corner grocery and Aboriginal specialty store for 23 years.
In Neechi’s early days we drew up a list of community economic development principles:
- creation of goods & services that are used locally
- purchases of locally produced goods
- local reinvestment of surpluses (profits)
- employment and training of local people
- community-oriented business ownership
- community health and
- human dignity
We were the first grocery operation in Manitoba to not sell cigarettes – ahead of the pharmacies! At our old store we have always had a children’s fruit basket, subsidized by the staff, where the previous owner sold cigarettes, war toys and Barbie dolls. We also have run various diabetes prevention programs and played a key role in neighbourhood efforts to push back street prostitution and other gang activities that became rampant in the mid 1990s.
All along we have understood that economic healing is needed to sustain personal and social healing. This is the context in which Neechi Commons was born. We have taken what we did at our old store to a much higher level, including a strong focus on regionally harvested and processed foods, a lovely art store and gallery, a restaurant and catering service backed up by an impressive commercial kitchen, a well equipped bakery, and a neighbourhood supermarket with a fruit and vegetable courtyard, freshwater fish and full meat service.”
Neechi Commons needs your help to achieve its goals. It hopes to become the cornerstone for the revitalization of commerce in a Winnipeg neighbourhood that has faced long-term economic hardship. The Co-op has created over 50 new employment opportunities for aboriginal youth and other neighbourhood residents.
Neechi Co-op has not chosen an easy path focused only on commercial viability. It has chosen to blaze a trail to be a transformative venture in the same spirit as other Co-operative pioneers. Its success will not only be a beacon of light in its local neighbourhood but also a shining example of the inherent power of the Co-operative form of enterprise to change lives for the better.
The most obvious and simple way that you can support Neechi is by purchasing products at the Commons. Another way that you can help is by signing up for Neechi’s weekly e-mail promotion and updates, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your support can help to ensure the success of this Co-operative enterprise. In the words of Louise Champagne: “We will remain heavily focused on achieving the commercial profitability needed for long-term business and community success. Neechi Commons symbolizes how Aboriginal People can regain control of land and economic decision-making within a modern community context.”
- Cindy Coker, Executive Director, SEED Winnipeg
- Hazel Corcoran, CWCF Executive Director, Calgary
- Kaye Grant, CWCF Communications Manager, Winnipeg
- David Kerr, Co-op Consultant, Winnipeg
- Richard LeMoing, Director, Manitoba Co-operative Association, Minnedosa, MB
- Marty Donkervoort, Social Enterprise Consultant and Instructor, University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg
- Shaun Loney, Executive Director, BUILD (Building Urban Industries for Local Development)
- Greg O’Neill, Co-operative Developer, Calgary
- Brendan Reimer, Regional Director, Canadian CED Network – Manitoba
- Dr. Claudia Sanchez-Bajo, Chair of Co-operative Enterprises, University of Winnipeg
- Lucas Stewart, General Manager, Manitoba Green Retrofit Inc., Winnipeg
- Dr. Wanda Wuttunee, Professor, Native Studies & Director, Aboriginal Business Education Partners, University of Manitoba
PS To learn more about Neechi Commons, see: www.neechi.ca