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Spotlight: Indigenous Members of the Canadian Cannabis Industry

The connection Indigenous communities have to cannabis cannot be underestimated. Today, thriving “underground” operations are occurring on First Nations Lands, from growing, to compounding, to retail. A position statement to the House of Commons by the National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association (NIMCA) states:

“There have been countless academic studies, archeological findings and reports, archive research and a plethora of journal entries from early European explorers which all corroborate that Indigenous peoples were using cannabis and hemp in its various forms long before any settlers came to North America. In addition to the archival testimony of early explorers, we have our own Indigenous records dating back to 1605, where our ancestors used cannabis and hemp for clothing, hunting and gathering (matts, nets, fishing line, etc.) selling, trading and exporting. Our ancestors extracted and processed cannabis and hemp long before any settlers reached our shores.”

Legalization of cannabis in Canada took place October 17th, 2018. In an ongoing battle for equity, Indigenous organizations and communities have worked to secure their deserved position in the industry. The passing of Bill C-45 has been highly criticized for its limited consulting with Indigenous communities. Additionally, further barriers have been put in place with excessive punitive sentencing.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with a few prominent figures about their experiences with the plant.

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Jordan Bryant is Training and Marketing Coordinator at Legacy 420. He resides on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, and is a member of Wolf clan.

What is your personal relationship with cannabis?

I’ve been working at a dispensary in Tyendinaga for three years. I’ve spent many hours researching cannabis in my spare time, in order to learn as much about the plant and its effects on the human body. I’ve also spent a great deal of time researching harm reduction principles, methods and how they apply to cannabis. Additionally, I dabble as an amateur analyst and have researched both the Cannabis Act and the Provincial Cannabis Retail Regulations.

What is your vision for the future of the industry?

I would like to see a system for Indigenous communities that is equal, but parallel to the federal and provincial systems. The “one size fits all” blanket system implemented on October 17th doesn’t account for the specific needs of Indigenous communities or treaty rights of Individual Nations. For communities that sometimes struggle with meeting basic needs, cannabis could be a powerful economic driver; but with such a high barrier of entry to the current legal regime, many feel their options are incredibly limited.

How can allies support Indigenous people and their right to be prominent forces in the cannabis space?

By educating themselves on why many First Nation communities have been drafting their own laws separate from the provinces, by supporting Indigenous businesses, and by helping others realize the vast majority of Indigenous communities that are in poor conditions did not get that way through their own fault – but rather, due to decades of horrendous policy choices made by the Colonial government.

Photo: Buzzfeed

Ian Campeau is an activist and speaker with the National Speakers Bureau & GSA. He was co-founder of influential Canadian band, A Tribe Called Red, and currently lives in Perth, Ontario.

“Aanin e zhibmaadzyaan! Migizi babaayaad ndizhnikaaz. T’Gaaning doonjibaa. Shaagi ndoodem. Nbiising Nishnaabe’inini ndaa.”

“Hello! My name is Ian Campeau. I’m of the Nipissing Nation from Garden Village. I am Heron clan.”

Hi Ian! Tell us, what is your personal relationship with cannabis?

I’m a daily consumer. I use it to treat my anxiety and depression. I started using cannabis after my wife kicked breast cancer as means to relax following a very stressful year. I can say it’s changed me for the better. I’ve become more sensitive to people and problems around me. I find cannabis helps give me different perspectives while calming my anxiety.

What is your vision for the future of the industry?

The future of the “industry” is really exciting if you look at the unique position of Indigenous people in Canada. We’re caught in a legal loophole that will make Canadians confront their treaty responsibilities. Since the federal government made cannabis legal nationwide – leaving it up to provinces to make their own rules – it enables Indigenous communities to create their own laws, as reserve land is considered federal land and out of the provincial jurisdiction. I’m excited for this commodity to help lift Indigenous people from the discomforts of colonialism.

Lack of housing is also a major problem and hempcrete could help alleviate that. We could grow the fibrous material to make clothing. We can eat hemp hearts. It’s such a versatile resource that could support an Indigenous measurement of wealth that’s outside the measurement of a capitalist. I’m really excited for Indigenous people to jump into this industry.

How can allies support Indigenous people and their right to be prominent forces in the cannabis space?

Go support Indigenous cannabis dispensaries. Speak about them. Get it out there that we’re in business. 

Celeste Barraza aka @BCBudGal, is a Cree/Metis, Swedish and Mexican-Aztec artist and activist, born and raised in the Okanagan/Shuswap area in British Columbia. She’s currently based in Vancouver.

What is your personal relationship with cannabis?

I’ve been around cannabis literally my whole my life. My parents consumed and grew. To me, it wasn’t something bad; it’s a plant. I started consuming daily when I was around 12 or 13-years-old. As I got older, I started to see the benefits. I lost my brother to cancer a few years ago; he had stopped taking his meds and used cannabis because it made him feel better.

I use cannabis daily, both medicinally and recreationally. I have a hard time gaining an appetite, and have stomach issues, insomnia, pain, and anxiety. When I was 17, it also helped me get off cocaine and other drugs I was using during a dark time in my life. Cannabis also motivates. I’ve figured out which strains work best for me, or if a tincture, edible or topical is more useful.

What is your vision for the future of the industry?

Everyone has access to GOOD QUALITY CANNABIS; different forms of cannabinoids, from dried cannabis to smoke/vape of course. But even, shake to make their own edibles or being able to buy edibles if they can’t make their own, as well as topicals, tinctures and so on! With proper testing, they’d know more about exact dosing and ingredients. They also say “protect the children!” Well, I say let cannabis be accessible to children and teens who need it [medically]. I believe cannabis would be better and more effective for their health than prescription drugs. Everyone is different when it comes to cannabis, so safe, easy access helps determine what works best. Even workshops for elderly people who would like to try it – well, workshops for cannabis in general – to show people how to grow their own, and make oils and edibles.

How can allies support Indigenous people and their right to be prominent forces in the cannabis space?

Let them have access and opportunities like everyone else. For example, having grows and dispensaries on native land brings the community together and keeps it together. It gives people jobs and careers.

“For us, its a traditional medicine. It’s our right. It’s grown from Mother Earth.” – Jamie Kunkel

Due to legislation, the ability to promote and grow these businesses is limited. Word of mouth is how many newcomers discover them, but as Canadians, we need to take a more proactive approach, beginning with education. Jordan has graciously provided us with an essay he wrote back in November 2018, which delves deeper into issues facing Indigenous communities. Furthermore,mediaINDIGENA published this comprehensive guide in October 2018, breaking down each community currently participating and operating in the cannabis space by province.

Take some time to research the dispensaries most accessible to you, and support them by visiting! Everyone is welcome, according to Ian Campeau. If you live in Ontario, a great way to experience Tyendinaga is during the Indigenous Cup, which is taking place end of May.

Readers: if you have any recommendations, share them in the comments below!

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