Indigenous communities have been left out of the Canadian cannabis economy, and a group of Indigenous chiefs are out to change that for the good of their communities.
Chief Robert Gladstone of Shxwha:y First Nation says a consortium they’re calling “All Nations Chiefs” has worked for months to negotiate an agreement for on-reserve cannabis distribution directly with the province – but to no avail.
“It’s been two years since the rollout where they did not consult adequately with First Nations,” said Gladstone. “We are trying to find a way to participate in this new economy.”
To get there, they’ve organized an online forum with All Nations Chiefs from the communities of Shxwha:y, Cheam, Soowahlie and Sq’ewlets for the morning of Dec. 2. Organizers have invited Premier John Horgan, stakeholders, and the public to join them in the virtual dialogue on the cannabis question.
Gladstone described the recalcitrance from provincial counterparts as “another pathway out of poverty blocked” for First Nations communities across Canada, noting that only four per cent of Canadian cannabis licences are Indigenous-affiliated.
“That four per cent should be disturbing to everyone,” he said.
The group has also launched a petition that had almost 1,500 signatures by Nov. 27.
“We are asking Honourable Premier Horgan to take real action towards reconciliation and honour his government’s platform commitment to the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights (UNDRIP) by allowing First Nations to participate in B.C.’s cannabis industry,” according to the petition preamble.
Since legalization, local First Nations leaders have been trying to control their own their destinies by finding a way to participate in the emerging economy “on a nation-to-nation basis,” the chief said.
Shxwha:y officials decided to go the route of applying for a Section 119 licence agreement under the Cannabis Control and Licensing Agreement Act, Chief Gladstone explained.
A Section 119 licence is required to legally distribute cannabis from retail stores on reserve land, and involve the province entering into agreements with individual First Nations, which supersede the Act. Only one community has signed such an agreement to date, the Williams Lake Indian Band. The Shxwha:y application used the Williams Lake vision as their model.
Some of the on-reserve cannabis stores in the area without provincial licensing have been operating in what government officials would describe as a grey area legally, while leaders are trying to negotiate a better way, with formal applications pending.
They started on-reserve stores under the inherent laws of their nation rather than under provincial licensing, some by enacting cannabis laws through land codes.
Those models differ from the route chosen by the owners of the first fully licensed cannabis store on reserve, which is The Kure on the Skwah reserve.
“The ultimate goal is to codify and harmonize the laws and regulations among all three levels of government,” Gladstone underlined.
But months later they are stymied, with no timeline, feedback or any response from the provincial government on their application. So they’re stepping up the pressure.
“We are reaching out. If they don’t answer, it’s a direct way of saying they are not interested in working toward a government-to-government relationship. There’s just no other way to interpret this.”
The online forum next Wednesday will focus on solutions to bring inclusivity and diversity to the nascent cannabis sector with First Nations involvement.
They feel they’ve put in the work to give the province a workable model.
“Now all we ask is recognition for our inherent right to trade and barter,” Gladstone said.
Chief Gladstone tells a story of how cannabis has changed everything in his village and beyond.
In total more than 100 people are working in the on-reserve stores around the Chilliwack area.
“These workers are not on CERB or social assistance,” Gladstone said.
As of a couple of years ago there were only four people working in Shxwha:y village. Now there are 13 jobs being held down currently at the store, and another 30 at the cultivation facility, where All Nations Cannabis Corp. is a Health Canada licensed cultivator and licensed producer applicant.
“It’s changed the standard of living for many in our village, going from abject poverty to a tier closer to the middle class,” Gladstone said. “So this is a success story.
“What we’re saying to the province is: ‘Don’t destroy this miracle of economic revival.’
“We’re just asking for co-operation.”