King Fisher Lake First Nation
If longevity is the key to success, then they have been doing it right at the Omahamo Store in Kingfisher Lake.
You see, Kingfisher Lake is set to celebrate the Omahamo Store’s 40th anniversary in October 2020 – no small feat for the First Nation fly-in community located 350 km northeast of Sioux Lookout.
When the Band-run store opened on Oct. 18, 1980, Kingfisher Lake’s population was about 250 and Omahamo was about 900 sq. feet. Today, the population is 620 and the store is 9,600 sq. feet (In between there was a 2,600 sq.-foot store). The store originally employed three people and now employs up to 10.
Past Kingfisher Lake Chief James Mamakwa credits five people with getting the Omahamo Store up and running during its humble beginnings to becoming a community mainstay for the past four decades:
Simon Sakakeep was the first Chief of Kingfisher Lake and signed the resolution for the buyout of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) store;
Councillor Matthias Sainnawap signed the resolution to buyout the HBC store and went to Winnipeg to negotiate the buyout;
Elder Councillor Albert Mamakwa tirelessly advocated the benefits of “working together on community-based efforts concept”;
Band Administrator Noah Winter helped to lead the acquisition of the HBC store, prepared the community petition for support, held community meetings, signed the resolution and negotiated directly with the HBC in Winnipeg;
Jerry Mamakwa was an employee of the HBC and subsequently transferred to work for the Omahamo Store after the purchase of the HBC store.
Today, Hezekiah Sakakeep is the store manager and Matthias Winter is the Socio-Economic Development President. Past Chief James Mamakwa said the Omahamo Store was opened for the good of Kingfisher Lake’s economy.
The community did an inhouse survey of how much of the economy was funnelled through the HBC and found that 82% of the community’s finances went through the store,” said Chief Mamakwa. “It was after the survey that the community realized that nothing was being returned. With no reinvestment to the community there would be limited economic activity for services and workforce.
“Initially, the community started a Band Store in the Band Hall to show that the community was serious of having (its) own store before complete acquisition of the HBC store.”
The first expansion of the Omahamo Store occurred in 1982 as the population of Kingfisher Lake had increased. A post office was included in the new building.
After close to 30 years, said Past Chief Mamakwa, the second store “began to show wear and tear.”
A new store was planned and had its grand opening on May 31,2012. The new Omahamo (which translated means “to go shopping”) saw the addition of office space, washrooms, mechanical room and freezer/locker rooms.
Omahamo Store products include food, hardware, clothing, household items and appliances, along with gas and fuel products.
The Omahamo Store prides itself on being a part of the community and has donated entry fees for teams, along with supporting gospel jamborees and offering raffle prizes.
The store’s hard work has not gone unnoticed. In 1994, the Kingfisher Lake Socio-Economic Development Corporation won Development Corporation of the Year Award from the Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund (NADF).
Past Chief Mamakwa, who is a member of the store’s board, notes that the Omahamo Store plays an important part in the community.
“Customers are always happy to browse and shop for new items and products,” said Past Chief Mamakwa. “When we buy through our store, we know where our money is going.”
Past Chief Mamakwa also has some advice for other First Nations people who are thinking of starting a business.
Along with proper bookkeeping, the Chief said: “Operate your business for cash, debit and credit card only.
“And keep your establishment clean and friendly.”