'It's just not right': Indigenous coffee company tackles water issues

An Ottawa coffee company is working to provide clean water for Indigenous families across Ontario.

Sales of Birch Bark Coffee Company will help pay for a water purifier

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow, the owner of Birch Bark Coffee Company, is selling coffee in order to support Indigenous communities struggling with boil water advisories. (Facebook)

A coffee venture in Ottawa is working to provide clean water for Indigenous families across Ontario. 

A portion of the proceeds from each bag that Birch Bark Coffee Company sells will help buy water purifiers for Indigenous families who don't have access to clean water.

"I had this dream, this vision of creating a First Nations coffee company," said founder Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow.

"[Water] is a fundamental right. People should not go without water. This is 2018."

In January, 91 First Nations had long-term drinking water advisories, according to the federal government, and a total of 1,047 drinking water systems were eligible for federal government support.

The government has set a deadline of March 2021 to end these drinking water advisories.

Marsolais-Nahwegahbow said that despite some efforts by the Canadian government to tackle water issues, the problem continues.

"It's just not right and it's unfair," he told CBC Radio's In Town And Out.

'Selling like hot cakes'

Birch Bark coffee can be found in shops across Ottawa, in Toronto and In Port Loring, Ont., southwest of North Bay. It can also be ordered online. 

"I've only been [going] for two months and the coffee is selling like hot cakes," said Marsolais-Nahwegahbow.

"To see almost all of it gone [off store shelves] is really nice, it just tells me that people care."

Marsolais-Nahwegahbow, who is Ojibwe and a member of the Whitefish River First Nation on Georgian Bay, said he hopes his business will inspire Indigenous youth to start their own social enterprises. 

Curve Lake First Nation north of Peterborough, Ont., will be the first recipient of the water purifiers.

"Right now, I'm raising $70,000 to be able to go into the community and put 700 units in," he said. "It should have been done a long time ago."