A: The cooperative structure aims to address community spiritual, cultural, financial, and social needs. In addition, it encourages values such as self-reliance, strengthening community ties, and knowledge preservation, all which appeal to many Indigenous groups’ push towards sovereignty and cultural revitalization.
A: Yes! All 12 federally recognized tribes in Montana allow groups to incorporate cooperatives under Montana state law. A study done on Tribal cooperative law by the Native American Development Corporation (NADC) can be found within the MCDC digital resource library.
A: One of the cooperative principles is open and voluntary membership—you cannot exclude someone from membership based on race or ethnicity. However, you can define membership by geographical area, such as a reservation or rural community, or by limiting membership to people who use the cooperative. For example, if a cooperative provided transportation to Indian Health Services, chances are that only enrolled Tribal members would use that service.
A: Incorporating a cooperative can be a confusing process if you haven’t worked with the cooperative model in the past. Getting a cooperative development center involved can keep your project on track and prevent you from having to fix your planning and legal documents down the line. Every state has different cooperative laws, so using resources you find on your own (for example, on the internet) may not be helpful to you.
However, after incorporation, cooperatives can follow their bylaws to govern and manage themselves, and are therefore independent and self-sustaining with little need for outside help.
One of the oldest incorporated Indigenous cooperatives is the Alaska Native Industries Cooperative Association (ANICA), incorporated in 1948. Their goal was to ensure food access to remote Alaska villages after the Bureau of Indian Affairs failed to provide reliable deliveries to these villages. ANICA is still in operation today.
A more recent example of an Indigenous cooperative is the ARTZ Cooperative in New Mexico, now in the process of incorporation. They aim to support Pueblo of Zuni members in creating and selling cultural arts and crafts.