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First Nations, logistics group prepping to move affordable goods north

A much sought-after distribution centre to stockpile goods and ship food to remote northwestern Ontario First Nation communities is one step closer to reality.
The Sioux Lookout Regional Airport will the storage hub of a regional food distribution network to remote First Nation communities, beginning this fall.

A much sought-after distribution centre to stockpile goods and ship food to remote northwestern Ontario First Nation communities is one step closer to reality.

CreeWest GP (General Partnership) and the First Nation communities of Lac Seul and Kitchenuhmaykoosib are partnering on a regional project to help Far North reserves overcome costly logistical and distance barriers in receiving fresh, affordable and nutritious food.

Ground is expected to be broken this spring at the Sioux Lookout Regional Airport on an 11,875-square-foot logistics centre and warehouse space with the anticipation of starting operations by next fall.

“This is the initial tip of the iceberg to move forward on the distribution centre out of Sioux Lookout,” said Ron Basaraba, CreeWest CEO, of the Dec. 4 signing of a memorandum of understanding.

CreeWest is a First Nations regional working group made up of economic development representatives from the member communities of Attawapiskat, Fort Albany, Kashechewan, Moose Cree and Weenusk. Included in their stable of assets is an air carrier.

CreeWest will not be involved in sourcing food, Basaraba said, a corporation will be established to handle that.

“We’re in logistics. It’s up the communities to source out their own suppliers. It’s for them to negotiate the pricing on buying in bulk and there’s one point of location to send it to, to the distribution centre, where the logistics takes over. We scope out the most economical, best and fastest way to get it there.

The new facility, to be located next to CreeWest’s hangar, will have a walk-in cooler/freezer and commercialized stacking shelves.

The distribution centre will consolidate and stage outgoing freight shipments to ensure perishable items reach the communities in a fresh state.

How much volume of freight they can expect to move is undetermined at this point, Basaraba said. Beyond their four member communities and new partners, there are about 28 more that might come aboard. “Once one or two start doing it, the others will see the value.”

Basaraba said they’ve received positive government feedback thus far on the roughly $2-million project.

CreeWest is contributing an undisclosed amount of capital and funding applications will also be filed shortly with the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, FedNor and the Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund.

Government subsidies could play a role through programs like Nutrition North Canada, which improves Northerners access to nutritious food.

Basaraba reasoned that if beer prices can be regulated to be the same in Toronto, Thunder Bay and Moosonee, the same formula should apply to other goods.

“If a bag of milk costs $8 in Sioux Lookout, it should cost you $8 in Fort Severn.”

With 36 years in the aviation industry, Basaraba said he can handle the scheduling in the project’s initital stages, but he’ll be looking to hire a logistics manager to eventually run the distribution centre.

Basaraba said the operation has to be a financially self-sustaining venture.

“It’s not something that has to make a ton of money, but it can break even with the rewards going to the communities.”