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Neighboring Bands Open Grocery Store

Harry Opikokew

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      SUMMER EDITION 1991      v20 n03 p10  
The Ochapowace and Kahkewistahaw bands officially opened a grocery store on April 19,1991. The "OK Groceries" is located on the Kahkewistahaw reserve near Broadview. It is a joint venture between the two bands.

Financing for the store came from the Saskatchewan Man Equity Foundation. Each band is responsible for one half of the $50,000 loan.

The two bands decided to start up a store because of two factors: the establishment of the Goods and Services Tax and the distance people had to travel to get to a store.

"The goods and services tax was partly the reason," says Wesley Bear, band counsellor for Ochapowace. Under federal law, goods and services sold on reserve are GST exempt.

"The other reason is to accommodate people who have a difficult time getting to and from the near-by towns." He adds, "People from the reserves would have to travel at least 20 kilometres to pick up basic items. This was especially difficult for the elderly and those without vehicles."

Jim Herr, former general manager of the Meadow Lake Co-op in northwestern Saskatchewan is manager of the store. He was with the Meadow Lake Co-op for 17 years. In November 1990 he retired and moved to the Broadview area to be with his wife, a United Church Minister.

In January 1991 he was approached by the two bands to see if he would be interested in managing a store. He accepted right away.

In Meadow Lake he had a staff of about eighty people to do the work in the store. At OK Groceries it is quite a bit different.

"With this job I make up the deposits, help with ordering, and do the whole thing. So its back to the basics sort of, but I really enjoy it."

The store buys produce through the Co-op in Broadview, which buys goods from the Federated Co-op whole sale. They have large warehouses in Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg. Herr feels comfortable dealing with the Co-op, "Because of my dealing with the Co-op over the years, I felt I had more confidence in dealing with them. For me it would be where we would get the best deal."

Herr also deals with other companies including Scott National. which supplies fresh fruit and vegetables. He buys all their dairy products from the local dairy producers. He goes on to say, "I bought myself a little truck and I haul out bread fresh from the bakery every morning. So we have fresh bread every day, so it works out pretty good."

The organization that financed the loan for this venture is the Saskatchewan Indian Equity Foundation. It is a commercial loan company that provides loans to Indian entrepreneurs on or off reserve within Saskatchewan.

According to Wayne Grey, General Manager of SIEF, Saskatoon office, the potential for this type if venture is unlimited. Especially when the people on the reserve support it.

"If you look at the number of people that live on the reserve. I think the per capita consumption is $19.86, per person, per week (1987 figure). If you multiply that out you can look at the tremendous amount of money that is spent just on groceries. You take a group of about 300 to 400 people, they can make a store viable".

Grey said that in the five years they have been in operation they have made over 1100 loans for various ventures. They have also arranged loans for similar stores throughout the province.

"They are sort of a new phenomenon right now, because of the advantages that Native business people have doing business on the reserves, versus the GST."

The OK Groceries is situated in the Kahkewistahaw complex. It is a multi purpose building that is also home to some rodeo functions and bingo to name a few. There are two part-time employees that help with the store. One is from Ochapowace and the other is from Kahkewistahaw reserve. They give assistance in the store in every capacity depending on how busy they are. One of the employees also trains as a manager. Since Herr is semi-retired, in the future he hopes to work fewer hours. This will give the other employees a chance at managing the store.