A local First Nation business was honoured by the Saskatchewan Indian Equity Foundation (SIEF) recently when it was presented with the SIEF Entrepreneurial Spirt Award.
Cote Market, located along Highway No. 8 north of Kamsack, open seven days a week, received the award during a ceremony held at the Saskatoon Inn and Conference Centre, and it was the first time being awarded to a retail store.
This award is given to a First Nation entity that is either a business, corporation, individual or First Nation community that exemplifies forward movement and involvement to creating sustainable economic development for the First Nations of Saskatchewan, said a release from SIEF.
The first Entrepreneurial Spirit Award was presented in 2011, and for 2018, the SIEF Entrepreneurial Spirit Award was presented to Cote Market of Cote First Nation.
“Nestled in the heart of Cote First Nation lays something unexpected: a thriving food mart that includes a fully functioning grocery store and gas station. The Cote Market has been in operation since 2010,” said the release.
“In a community wrought with many social dilemmas and concerns, this small First Nation community business continues to thrive.
“In the eight years it has been open it has only been broken into twice and in each instance, it was by someone outside of the community.”
Gerald Marcoux, economic development officer for Cote First Nation, who is the interim director of operations of the market, said, “This speaks volumes about what it means to the community.”
“This business hasn’t been smooth sailing, but with dedicated employees who weathered the storm together, the community is beginning to reap the rewards,” the release said.
Much of the business’s success is credited to its employees. Employees like Shelley Cote, the current store manager, and Amanda Cote, assistant manager, who have been with the market since it opened its doors.
Since opening its doors in October of 2010, it has finally seen its first profit and has grown from five employees to 21.”Our staff is from Cote First Nation and surrounding area, and all have taken Service Best training and have achieved certificates,” Shelly said.
The market now has suppliers competing for its business and draws patrons not only from Cote First Nation but from the neighboring First Nations as well as from the town of Kamsack and parts of Manitoba.
It took six months to convert an existing defunct bingo hall into the Cote Market which became the only fully functioning on-reserve grocery store complete with its own bakery south of La Ronge.
“It hasn’t been easy to keep the business going but I’m happy with where things are at now, because it is finally able to give back to the community it serves, by creating jobs, particularly for the youth,” Shelly said.
She said it’s rewarding to see first-time employees blossom as they develop their customer service skills as well as their confidence, and having the business finally turn a profit has been great because now it can help silence its critics.
“Basically we are like a family here,” she said. “We all know our role and what we need to do to complete the day. We make our customers feel welcome by having a positive and friendly atmosphere at the market which is a convenience, grocery and fast food retail outlet.”
Marcoux, Shelly and Amanda believe being recognized for this award by the Saskatchewan Indian Equity Foundation (SIEF) is just icing on the cake. They also have been asked by SIEF to be mentors for other First Nation enterprises in the future.
Shelly cannot foresee a time when she leaves the store because she has found her passion. Marcoux says there is room for improvement such as becoming more self-sufficient by installing solar panels and possibly becoming a co-operative. Right now his main focus is to keep everything running smoothly, and he does whatever it takes including bringing in his own tools to make repairs at the market. Whatever the future brings, both believe the market has been a good idea for Cote First Nation.
“Having to be competitive in a rural setting is tough, but we are supported by the community, by the Chief and council, and serve our area and beyond,” Marcoux said. “We have established an excellent relationship with suppliers to look after our customers’ needs, and we will bring in special orders as requested,” Marcoux said.
“We welcome new customers. Anyone on or off the First Nation is encouraged to buy products here. We have worked hard to make this a safe and enjoyable place to shop, and we monitor our products closely to keep the shelves well-stocked.”
The mouth-watering smell of fresh-baked bread greets one upon entering the store. “Our bakery sells out daily and we are looking at upgrading to a larger oven,” Shelly said.
While presenting the award, SIEF expressed a thank you, to Cote Market, saying it is an excellent example of a First Nation community business working to make its First Nation a better place.
“The work you have done to establish this business is very important in furthering the First Nation business community,” it said. “SIEF congratulates the 2018 winner of the SIEF Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, Cote Market.”
The Saskatchewan Indian Equity Foundation Inc. (SIEF) was one of the first Aboriginal financial institutions in Canada to offer developmental lending to First Nation businesses in Saskatchewan and was established in 1986, said information on the Internet.
SIEF is owned by the 74 First Nations of Saskatchewan and affiliated with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN).
“We have also partnered with the TD Bank to create the First Nations Bank of Canada (FNBC), and we have expanded our existing investment portfolio to generate profit and employment for First Nations people,” it said.
SIEF is committed to developing a strong economic base among First Nations in Saskatchewan. “Our goal at SIEF is to continue to assist in the creation of jobs and to foster economic growth for First Nations people, because a strong Aboriginal business community means financial independence for all First Nations people,” the information said.
Artwork on the award was created by Simone McLeod, a Cree-Ojibway, born in Winnipeg, and a member of the James Smith Cree Nation of Saskatchewan, said information on the reverse side of the award.