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Band sets up grocery store

Adam Johnson
Northern News Services
Thursday, October 25, 2007

Pehdzeh Ki/Wrigley - When Arctic Co-op Ltd. (ACL) closed its doors in Wrigley at the end of July, the community was left without its main provider of food, supplies and fuel.

That's why the band has spent recent months working frantically to pick up the slack.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

D'Arcy J. Moses, Pehdzeh Ki band manager, works at his desk in Wrigley. Now in the process of running Arctic Co-op's former holdings in the community, Moses said big things could be in the cards for Wrigley. - Adam Johnson/NNSL photo

"Now we're a full-service band," said Pehdzeh Ki band manager D'Arcy J. Moses (not to be confused with Chief Darcy Moses).

After ACL left the region, Moses said the band purchased the company's holdings in Wrigley, which included a hotel, the Co-op store, two storage buildings, vehicles and building contents.

While the band has the gas bar running, and is renovating the hotel, he said the top priority right now is setting up a temporary store in the band office.

The reason is simple, he said.

"Not everyone in the community can afford to take flight shuttles to Simpson."

Twice-a-week charters have been flying into the village to allow families to stock up, while others have been driving the 200-plus kilometre route between the two communities.

He said the store will focus on staples to keep the community fed - purchased through a joint venture with Bigway Foods in Hay River - while the band explores its future options.

"Right now we're doing a feasibility study to see what it will take to run and maintain the current co-op building."

He said overhead costs to heat and maintain the building are part of what drove ACL out of the community.

While he doesn't want to talk numbers, Moses estimates the temporary store will cost "a third" of what re-opening the original store would.

Band employee Kyle Clille is one of the many band employees who have been helping out with the new store.

"It's been going all right," he said.

The project is moving along, he said, with cash registers and Interac machines purchased, and training underway for existing staff to run them.

"It should be up and running by the end of the month," he said. "We're pushing for Oct. 31."

Moses said these projects are only the beginning, though the band doesn't always have the full support of the community.

"It's an uphill battle at times," he said. "Overall, the community is coming around."

The community has been vocal about its problems with band politics in the past, acts that have lead to the resignation of several chiefs and councils in recent years.

"They have to realize that progress takes time," he said.

He said with a potential Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, Aurora Resources continuing zinc exploration on the other side of the river, and tourism opportunities from the hotel, things could be looking up for Pehdzeh Ki.

"The band stands to make a great deal of money in the next 20 years," he said. "No one individual is going to benefit. It's a communal effort."