Indigenous

Tsuu T'ina chief has honey of an idea

The Tsuu T’ina Nation near Calgary is experimenting with raising honey bees.

Alberta First Nation is learning the craft of raising bees

Chief Lee Crowchild gives Dan Crane tips on how to care for his hive. (Brandi Morin)

The Tsuu T'ina Nation near Calgary is experimenting with raising honey bees.

The project is the brainchild of Chief Lee Crowchild, who became interested in harvesting honey two years ago. It's a unique venture that Crowchild hasn't seen undertaken in many First Nations communities.

"I was fascinated by them," said Crowchild, who began researching how to become a beekeeper on YouTube before obtaining his first hive. "It made sense to me [to bring them here]. I didn't even know exactly what I was doing."

Bees doing all the work

But raising bees isn't too hard if you let nature take its course, he said.

"At the end of June [last year] I pulled out a few combs for honey and couldn't believe it. The bees were doing all the work – honey, not in a store, but right in my backyard!"

His first hive produced 4.5 kilos of honey, but did not survive the winter.

"They have a high mortality rate. They can be sensitive," he said.

That didn't deter him from further investing in bees when he became chief last winter. He thought it was a good idea to share the venture with the community.

Symbiotic relationship

In March Crowchild organized a training session that attracted more than a dozen participants. He recently brought in 10 hives that are spread out among himself and four other families. Two of the hives are from New Zealand, with the rest brought in from Saskatchewan and southern Alberta.
 
The bees do all the hard work, according to Tsuu T'ina Chief Lee Crowchild. (Brandi Morin)
"You hear all the stories about bees being endangered and I can understand that on a global scale," Crowchild told CBC News. "I think what's more in tune here is a teaching tool. It's a chance for the community to re-establish a symbiotic relationship with the land. Then you're humbling yourself enough to say I've got these bees, I'm going to help them do what they do."

Dan Crane has had four hives nestled in the trees on his property in Tsuu T'ina for two weeks. He laboured many hours to prepare and construct the wooden crates that house the bees.

'Zen-like'

Crane said he's been stung several times so far, but it's still worth learning the ways of beekeeping.
 
"It's still so new. Like anything it's a learning process," Crane said. "Right now they're living off of sugar water and pollen strips to get them started. But there's so much stuff around here for them to eat."
 
In fact, Crowchild said, the bees will pollinate within a four kilometer radius.
 
"The bees are pollinating the trees. The flowers are just all alive all of a sudden," Crowchild said.

Raising the bees is a therapeutic experience for him. 

"When you sit by a hive there's a hum. It's almost Zen-like," Crowchild said.

Economic opportunity

Tsuu T'ina is behind one of the largest First Nations' developments in the country.

Last fall it announced three major commercial projects to be located along Calgary's upcoming ring road extension:

  • Tsuut'ina Park, a planned entertainment, hospitality and retail development on about two square kilometres of land located south of Glenmore Trail
  •  Tsuut'ina Crossing, to be built on 1.5 square kilometres east of the ring road and west of Calgary's Oakridge community
  • Tsuut'ina Centre, which is intended to support a "major regional retail and commercial centre" on 1.5 square kilometres directly south of Bullhead Road.
"When you sit by a hive there's a hum. It's almost Zen-like," said Chief Lee Crowchild. (Brandi Morin)
However, Crowchild believes economic opportunity also lies within, right in the back yards of the people. 

"We talk about big economic developments here, but the real backbone of how we survive is the small businesses," Crowchild said. "I thought, 'Let's do something that's going to help us to understand our symbiotic relationship with the land, with the animals.' " 

Honey for profit

He predicts the hives will produce around 225 kilograms of honey this fall, which he plans to distribute to community members along with the wax, which has countless uses and benefits.
 
Next year Crowchild plans to expand the project to 100 hives and produce honey for profit.
 
"It was my intention to create economic opportunity — I think it will be about a three-year transition time," he said.

About the Author

Brandi Morin, Métis, born and raised in Alberta, possesses a passion for telling Indigenous stories. Based outside Edmonton, Morin has lent her talents to several news organizations, including Indian Country Today Media Network and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network National News.