Saskatchewan

Growing traditional medicinal plants eyed in tribal council-federal greenhouse project

The File Hills Qu’appelle Tribal Council’s development company and Farm Credit Canada hope building a greenhouse leads to food sovereignty and access to traditional medicines while creating economic and employment opportunities. 

File Hills Qu'Appelle Developments, Farm Credit Canada sign $250K agreement

Representatives from the federal government, Farm Credit Canada, the File Hills Tribal Council and its economic development arm were on hand to sign an agreement that will bring an Indigenous-operated greenhouse to a community in the near future. (Matt Howard/CBC)

The File Hills Qu'appelle Tribal Council's development company and Farm Credit Canada have joined in a greenhouse project they hope will lead to food sovereignty and access to traditional medicines while creating economic and employment opportunities. 

In a partnership announcement on Friday, FCC contributed $250,000 to the council's greenhouse project. 

"[This project] is really important in Saskatchewan because our nation and our youth and our food sovereignty is so important to us," Thomas Benjoe, president and CEO of File Hills Qu'appelle Developments, said.

Benjoe says produce grown in the greenhouse will be sold to grocery stores to generate revenue, as well as reduce the research and development costs associated with growing traditional medicinal plants.

Benjoe says the development corporation takes a lot of pride in its projects and hopes to transfer that sense of pride to the 11 communities and roughly 15,000 Indigenous people it represents. 

"[There's a lot of pride] to be able to pick up a vegetable and say, 'You know what, this was grown by us,' so we're really looking forward to seeing that transpire," he said. 

Shaun Soonias, FCC's director of Indigenous relations, says the company is focusing on strengthening its relationship with Indigenous people to understand existing opportunities and issues.

MP Ralph Goodale (Liberal, Regina-Wascana), who was on hand for the announcement in place of Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal agriculture and agri-food minister, calls the partnership a big step along the path toward reconciliation.

"It's also an excellent business model and business opportunity," Goodale said. 

A location and date to begin construction of  the greenhouse has yet to be set, according to a news release issued at the signing event.

Tackling new territory

Benjoe notes the idea to growing traditional medicinal plants in the greenhouse is an attempt to mitigate the effects of climate change faced by Indigenous people who have trouble growing the sensitive plants. 

However, Benjoe says, this is new territory. 

Thomas Benjoe, president and CEO of File Hills Qu'appelle Developments, says he looks forward to the knowledge-sharing opportunities the greenhouse project will create between Indigenous youth and elders. (Matt Howard/CBC)

"Traditional medicines have never been grown in a greenhouse, so there's going to be a lot of trial and error in terms of what are the necessary conditions required to properly grow medicines in a greenhouse environment," he said. 

He says the idea to grow traditional medicinal plants could lead to discussions with the First Nations University or the University of Saskatchewan to figure out what might be needed to make the attempt a success.

With files from Ntawnis Piapot