The Labrador Inuit Development Corporation

Fred Hall

 

THE LABRADOR INUIT Development Corporation (LIDC) was formed in January 1982 to improve the economic condition of the Labrador Inuit. The Labrador Inuit identify business opportunities, analyse the potential of these proposed ventures, and then, with the backing of the corporation, may establish the project or business. This is especially significant since the communities of northern Labrador are among the fastest growing in the province. For example, between 1981 and 1986, the population of Nain grew by 8.5 per cent, and the population of Rigolet increased by 17 per cent.

 The economy of the north coast is based mainly on the inshore fishery and also depends on government spending. The meagre income from both provides neither a stable economic base nor an adequate standard of living.

 The inshore fishery is handicapped by its short season, which inhibits investments in the boats, gear, and shore facilities needed for fishermen to take advantage of the rich marine resources off the coast of Labrador. For most fishermen, the challenge is to make a living from a fishing season that lasts only six to ten weeks: most only earn enough to qualify for the unemployment insurance that will support them through the winter months. Consequently, unemployment rates in winter are as high as nearly 80 per cent in some communities. The alternative is welfare.

 The unemployment problem is compounded by the large numbers of young people in north coast communities. About 60 per cent of Nain residents are under 15 years old, whereas the average for other communities is about 50 per cent. Jobs are scarce for young people. High unemployment, combined with rapid population growth in the communities, indicates an urgent need to stimulate the economy and provide jobs.

 The LIDC has provided a means by which native groups and organizations can achieve both objectives simultaneously. For instance, when the Labrador Inuit Association (LIA) needed office space, the idea of constructing a commercial office building was suggested. The corporation was successful in raising money to put up the building, obtaining much of the money from Native Economic Development funding programs. It was built by a local contractor using local labour. It is the first commercial office building on the north coast, and houses the head office of LIA with its staff of 24.

 The healthy population of the George River caribou herd, the largest in Canada, presented another economic opportunity. At first, a small commercial hunt was held in 1985, and the meat was sold only within Labrador. But in 1986, the corporation was successful in obtaining a licence to hunt caribou for export elsewhere in Newfoundland. The hunt was successful from the standpoint of providing work to local hunters and establishing a market. However, the lack of freezer space and processing facilities limited the size of the hunt and its economic benefits; so, in 1987, a large caribou facility was built in Nain to process and package the caribou meat for sale throughout the province. This new project not only provided more jobs for the Inuit, but expanded the potential of future job creation by using the skins and other byproducts of the hunt for crafts and other collage industries.

 During the 1988 spring caribou hunt, the new Nain caribou plant was used for the first time. However, the late migration of the herd resulted in a limited harvest; approximately 1500 animals were processed for commercial sale in 1988. About 10 000 kg of federally inspected meat was processed for sale outside the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, while another 50 000 kg was marketed within the province. The meat is being sold on average for about $1.25 per kg in the province, and for about $2.25 per kg outside the province. Canadian demand for caribou meat has been most encouraging.

The commercial caribou hunt has created many jobs, including more than 100 seasonal jobs created during a time of the year when unemployment is at its peak in northern Labrador. Also, plans are presently being made to diversify the uses of the plant so that it may function on a year-round basis in the future. Now, seals may also be processed at the plant, according to a plan which has been developed by the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada and a number of Inuit business groups. Other projects are being developed using the caribou plant as a summer operation for smoked, fresh, and frozen arctic char.

LIDC holds a joint-venture offshore northern shrimp licence with National Sea Products Limited. Six Labrador Inuit are employed on every trip of the shrimp vessel, of which there are approximately six trips per year, depending on catch rates. The offshore shrimp fishery has become more successful with each passing season, to ~e point where, for the last two years, LIDC and National Sea have had to charter a foreign vessel in order to harvest our shrimp. The corporation has recently agreed to charter a vessel whose construction is currently underwritten by National

Sea. Using a Canadian vessel will double the number of positions open to Inuit year round for both shrimp and ground-fish seasons.

 LIDC has also become involved in tourism. The Tasiujatsoak Wilderness Camp, built in 1972 by the provincial government to attract sports fishermen, was considered economically unfeasible and was eventually closed around 1980. After a bid was made to the government to reopen the camp, in late 1986, the corporation began the job of developing a marketing plan, making repairs to the camp, cleaning up the area around the camp, and installing a canoe-outfitting facility on Cabot Lake.

 Now in operation for the past two summers, the camp hosted a total of 50 guests in 1988. As a result, seven Inuit were employed from mid-July to mid-September.

 Another project is the mining of Labradorite, a unique stone used to make jewelry. Four Inuit residents of Nain were employed on the project during the summer of 1988. The LIDC is working on upgrading the quality of the product by improving both quarrying and finishing techniques so that the gemstone can be marketed this year by the corporation as a precious stone suitable for high-quality jewelry.

 In addition to making these various projects possible, the corporation also trains its own employees and others in word processing, accounting, and general office procedures. Labradorite miners have been instructed in quarrying techniques; similarly, a meat inspector, a small-engine repairman, an office equipment technician, and a plant manager for the caribou meat processing plant have also been trained in their respective fields.

The corporation's shareholders, directors, and management share the conviction that the route to economic self-sufficiency for Labrador is through community-based and community-controlled enterprises. The company's recent activities have been fully supported by the Inuit in Labrador and have had a positive effect on social life in the communities. Leadership, employment skills, and community cohesion are all being fostered by the company's activities. The reduced dependence on welfare, lower unemployment, and the creation of community wealth have resulted in a community whose sense of worth and pride in accomplishment is being regained.

 
Fred Hall is Managing Director of the Labrador Inuit Association. 


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