Ottawa

Legal cannabis could be economic kickstarter for First Nations, group says

Indigenous communities are poised for economic gains with cannabis sales but are playing catch-up thanks to a lack of consultation with federal and provincial governments, according to a consortium of entrepreneurs and researchers that were in Ottawa last week.

Offers 'generations of economic opportunity,' according to Indigenous consortium

Francine Whiteduck, left, and Roland Bellerose, right, are working on ways to help Indigenous communities incorporate cannabis and hemp sales into their local economies. (Mario Carlucci/CBC)

Indigenous communities are poised for economic gains with cannabis sales but are playing catch-up thanks to a lack of consultation with federal and provincial governments, according to a consortium of entrepreneurs and researchers.

Roland Bellerose, founder and CEO of Cannabis and Hemp Indigenous Consortium Canada, was a delegate at a conference that ended Friday in Ottawa.

"This has generations of economic opportunity written all over it, because it returns us to much of our traditional medicines, our traditional plants, plant cultures, [being] stewards of the land, our farming communities," said Bellerose.

"From a practical perspective, of course, we're looking at being able to participate in the economic engine of Canada."

Francine Whiteduck is also a member of the consortium. The member of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation near Maniwaki, Que., is the founder of Whiteduck Resources, a research firm that consults with Indigenous governments and community organizations.

We're looking at being able to participate in the economic engine of Canada.- Entrepreneur Roland Bellerose

She said First Nations across the country need to work together towards adopting best practices and models for the sale and regulation of cannabis.

"Alderville First Nation has a very good model that they're willing to share with communities. Kahnawake is working on their own framework," Whiteduck said.

"There are other communities out west building a framework they're going to work in. And they're saying, 'We're going to harmonise that.'"

Lack of consultation leads to resentment

The consortium contends that First Nations were not consulted during the cannabis legalization process and therefore were left out when it came to deciding how legalization would roll out in their communities.

The aim of the consortium, according to Bellerose, is to become a resource that provides fact-based research to those communities so they can expedite the process of incorporating cannabis and hemp into their economies.

But there's also resentment, he said, over being left out of the legalization process. 

"They've left us in a position of saying, 'You didn't consult with us. You didn't include us. And now you've thrown these regulations at everybody, and now you've left the problem for us to solve,'" said Bellerose.

One source of optimism, according to Whiteduck, is the participation of younger members of Kitigan Zibi who left the conference with a sense of optimism for how cannabis and hemp sales can lead to greater economic growth.

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