Indigenous Cannabis Conference Aims to Improve First Nation Socio-Economic Conditions

Cannibis plant 

When a friend approached asking I give a hand in organizing an indigenous cannabis conference, I was actually amused. As a former football player having played sports my entire life, I’m pretty straight edge. I don’t drink much, don’t do any drugs, and I always thought of marijuana as something for hippies and stoners.

While growing up, my friends thought I was weird because I didn’t smoke or drink, but they respected that I had goals, and would often defend me when people questioned why I didn’t partake. So it is kind of amusing that I’ve gotten involved as the guy who never smoked weed but is now advocating in favor of cannabis and hemp at the First Nation Economic Advancement Conference (FNEAC).

Reflecting on my involvement and experience as both an organizer and a participant in Calgary’s “Idle No More” helped me decide whether or not to get involved with this cannabis conference stuff, and I came to one conclusion: We as First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples NEED to be involved in anything that impacts our Right to self-determination, and our sovereignty, and we need to be involved in the creation of any and all legislation impacting these things. We also need to create our own laws to govern our own territories to demonstrate our ability to do so.

When speaking with Regena Crowchild, a Tsuut’ina Nation Elder, and a respected senior in the community, Regena said very eloquently, “We at Tsuut’ina understand there are medical benefits of cannabis. We also understand there may be economic benefits to First Nations who participate in the production, processing, and sale of cannabis and hemp products. However this is under Canadian law. The jurisdiction of the legalization of cannabis on reserve lands is with each First Nation. Tsutinna will be enacting our own legislation that will protect the interests of our citizens.”  

The impact to the sovereignty issue cannot be overstated. Regina is 100 percent correct that we need to make certain that OUR laws are respected, and to do that we have to actually have laws, just like laws we’ve had since time immemorial, and laws given to us by the Creator.

Even though Regena and I are from very different Nations – she was born into the blood tribe but is a citizen of the Tsuut’ina nation, and I’m Metis with Cree blood, and raised up north – our views on this issue are virtually identical.

Regena spoke at length about the medical benefits. She said there are many people on her Rez who have been prescribed opiates as painkillers, and said cannabis could help alleviate that issue. Though harm reduction was her focus, she understands the potential for economic development as well, and her Reservation is well positioned to become a powerhouse in this field.

Being from the far north, I’ve watched the lumber industry slowly atrophy, and the oil patch die, and have seen friends who’ve worked hard their entire adult lives suddenly have no job. The effect on a community already struggling with poverty and social issues cannot be understated.

My family has always been heavily involved in the Native Rights movement. My father Mervin helped author the Metis Proclamation, and was heavily involved in the creation of the settlements appeals tribunal in Alberta.

I see great economic opportunities in the growing and production of cannabis, and that’s one reason I believe we need to lead the way and get involved. When I discussed this with my dad, Merv surprised me by saying “I think it’s a good thing. I know I used to make fun of your stoner buddies, but you never hear of them getting stoned and then beating up other kids. They get stoned and then build a birdhouse, or go to sleep. And that’s all I care about. Will it hurt us, or help us, as a community? Pills make people aggressive, and booze even more so.”

Merv talked about how easily we could build greenhouses, dedicating some of them to growing cannabis and some to vegetables, and to encourage food sovereignty, which is an issue that’s very serious up north where the price of food can be excessive.

He was legitimately excited about the potential for a positive economic impact, and it being sustainable, and creating jobs in a region where people are desperate for work right now. More jobs leads to less poverty, which means only good things.

So you see, it’s not all that strange that a guy like myself, who doesn’t even smoke weed, thinks this could be paradigm changing, and that’s why I chose to help out and get involved. This conference is going to help us help all our Nations position ourselves for success.

First National Indigenous Cannabis & Hemp Conference, will be held on November 18-21, 2018 at Tsuut’ina Grey Eagle Resort, Alberta. Panels. Featured speakers include; Sen. Lillian Dyck, Former Ontario AFN RC Isadore Day, Dr. Evan Adams C.E.O, BC FN Medical Authority, Thunderbird Foundations Carol Hopkins O.C., Manny Jules FN Tax Commission, Opaskwayak Chief Christian Sinclair. (See www.nichc.ca for more information)