Posts By: Aaron Many Guns

Siksika Nation Enters Cannabis Business

The sky hasn’t fallen and civil society hasn’t collapsed since Canada ended its national cannabis prohibition in October 2018. Contrary to the warnings by drug warriors, cannabis decriminalization and government regulation has resulted in economic opportunity and empowerment and is generating additional revenue needed to better finance important tribal programs.

Siksika Nation is the latest First Nation to stake a claim in the Green Rush. Via a 50/50 partnership with Kelowna BC-based Frozen Penguin Medical Industries, construction is set to begin this fall on a 25,000 sq. ft. cannabis cultivation and processing facility.  Involved with cannabis production since 2013, Frozen Penguin brings invaluable experience to the partnership. Reefer grown at the facility will exclusively help supply Health Canada and none will be diverted for recreational resale at a dispensary.

When complete, the building will be the first purpose-built cannabis production facility constructed on Indigenous land in Canada, according to Siksika Resource Development Ltd. CEO Tom Many Heads. The facility will be located in the same industrial park as SRDL headquarters. Siksika Construction, the construction arm of Siksika Resource Development Ltd. (SRDL), will be given the honour of helping build the infrastructure and erect the structure. No figures are available on the number of construction jobs that will be created, but 50 full-time positions for Siksika Nation members to staff the facilities’ day-to-day cultivation operation will be needed.

The plan is to produce five crop rotations per year that are expected to bring Siksika Nation coffers up to $15 million annually. The band intends to spend the money on social programs like housing and combating the opioid crisis – a catastrophe that is especially hard on Canadian Indigenous communities where many of our young people are succumbing to the deadly outcome of addiction.

The warehouse-type structure will contain a number of grow rooms. Frozen Penguin is working on a new system developed by RotoGro where plants are grown in a barrel-shaped planter and fertilized using a rotating motion. Barrels provide approximately 3.14 times additional grow area when compared to a bed, and this system can increase the yield by as much as twelve times the floor space of a traditional facility. For twelve months, Frozen Penguin has been testing the system at their Kelowna facility, and according to RotoGro CEO Adam Clode, they’re “getting exceptional yields.”

The RotoGro system will help Siksika Nation set the price they need to sell at to stay competitive and turn a profit. That would be good news for Siksika First Nation. According to Roland Bellerose, an advocate for Indigenous participation in the pot business, pricing for recreational sales are quite high and may not be sustainable. “What happens when a country like Columbia starts selling their product at 60 cents a gram?” asks Bellerose.

Siksika Nation’s decision to grow Mary Jane follows that of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, who in 2018 retrofitted an 84,000 sq. ft. former bottling plant located on their land and began producing medical and recreational weed. Akwesasne’s pot business is 100 percent band owned and has 75 employees. Business has been good and the band plans to expand to a 100,000 sq. ft. facility in the near future.

Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN), located next to The Pas in Manitoba, is another First Nation community that’s gotten into the weed business. They partnered with National Access Cannabis (NAC), in a 51/49 company ownership split. OCN and NAC focus on the recreational segment of the business and sell their products in NAC’s Meta Cannabis Supply Co. stores. They recently opened a dispensary in the OCN providing jobs for 12 Opaskwayak.

Siksika’s goal is for 100 percent ownership. Though branching out and joining the recreational-use dispensary sector in the future is a possibility, for now they want to learn, develop, and perfect the medicinal cannabis business one step at a time.

Frozen Penguin is in the process of a name change to comply with Health Canada’s strict rules against using animal names to promote products such as cannabis.

Summit Shares Vision for Way Forward

Melrene Saloy, Teara Frazier, Stephan Nairn, Jordon Jolicoeur, Jenn Harper and Heather Black who were in the Seed To Success panel.
L-R Melrene Saloy, Teara Frazier, Stephan Nairn, Jordon Jolicoeur, Jenn Harper and Heather Black who were in the Seed To Success panel. Photo by Aaron Many Guns.

The Forward Summit was a good distraction from the chaos in world affairs. The February 26-28 event attracted a gathering of industry professionals, bankers, consultants, a dragon, and Indigenous people seeking better communication and participation in today’s economy.

First Nations Drum attended the first two days of the three-day conference held at the Telus Convention Centre in downtown Mohkínstsis – “elbow” in Blackfoot, and their name for Calgary, Alberta. The summit began on a bone-chillingly cold day with Elder Martin Heavy, Head of the Kainai Nation, opening with a Blessing and thank you to the Creator. Following were panel sessions, roundtable discussions, and workshops.

Nicole Robertson, one of the organizers for the Forward Summit conference speaks to delegates.
Nicole Robertson, one of the organizers for the Forward Summit conference speaks to delegates. Photo by Aaron Many Guns.

The panel sessions started with the First Nation Major Projects Coalition, which is a group of 52 members from across Canada who want to help each other in negotiating the acquisition or building of major infrastructure projects. These projects will bring employment and a degree of financial independence.

Shane Gottfriedson, a former chief of the Tk’emlup First Nation, near Kamloops B.C., gave a keynote speech on his band’s expanded portfolio. They invested in resource development that includes partnership in a gold mine.

He also talked about his own business dealings with friends in starting Powwow Coffee Co. and becoming franchisees with Tim Hortons. They hope to build their Powwow Coffee company to become one of the major suppliers in B.C. and beyond.

The roundtable discussions were held concurrently, so I chose to attend Attracting Capital and Sustainable Economic Participation. There were also discussions on hydrocarbons, mining partnerships in Canada, capacity building, and energy gridlock.

Preston Manning was in on the discussion, and he mentioned that the challenges Indigenous people face need support by positive and proactive political will from government to move infrastructure projects along. Removing political risk would make Indigenous participation possible.

Chief Jason Gauthier of the Missanabie Cree First Nation spoke about his band’s involvement in purchasing a railroad in north Ontario, additional agreements in revenue sharing, partnership in a large forestry company, and 70 joint ventures.

Mathew August from Animus Capital Partners explained his firm’s work with Indigenous communities that wish to acquire infrastructure projects and be involved from the planning phase to completion and operations.

Also in the Attracting Capital and Sustainable Economic Participation roundtable discussions were the China Railway First Survey and Design Initiative Group who shared their railway-building expertise. The company is doing a feasibility study on a rail link for the Ring of Fire development in north Ontario.  

Some summit participants were there looking for contacts and possible contracts. Clarence Assassin with Pride Hydrovac was busy networking when I asked him about the work situation in Northern B.C. He replied, “It’s slow like everywhere, but we have people and machinery out there.”

Jack Toth is founder and CEO of Impact Society, a group that works with Indigenous youth and communities. Toth was in attendance to better understand the commitment that industry groups have to holistic youth and community development. He wanted to learn how the Impact Society can partner with industry and communities in a positive manner so opportunities can be maximized.

Dan Pawlachuk from Deh Tai was at the summit getting info for the Fort Nelson First Nation, which has been expanding their business portfolio to include the Laird Hot Springs owned by the band.  

Troy Buchanan, from Modular Home Builder Modus out of Crossfield, Alberta, was there to promote their product to First Nations experiencing housing shortages. Those wanting a quote can contact his team via their website at

A panel session on the second day covered building sustainable relationships. It brought together the Mikisew Cree Nation, McMurray Metis, and Chris Stannell of Teck Resources Ltd. who discussed their involvement in the proposed Frontier Project north of Fort McMurray.

The Mikisew Cree have lived in the area since time immemorial and were opposed to the project initially, but through consultations with all the groups involved, they’ve come to an agreement that will safeguard the environment during construction, operation, and for the duration of the project. This project will need pipelines built and add 260,000 bbl/d to the supply system for the life of the mine.

In the event of a spill, Delta Remediation explained their cleanup procedure that uses petroleum metabolizing organisms to break down spills and help nature heal itself through natural processes.

This method uses naturally occurring microbes, is non GMO, and safe for use in any environment where a pipeline is situated. Across Canada and the U.S., pipelines are having a lot of problems getting started, and those being built are having trouble getting completed.

Chief Clifford White of the Gitxaala Nation spoke of their relationship with LNG Canada and how he’s pushing for legacy projects to help future generations so that when natural resource projects are no longer viable, the wealth created will have been properly invested and provide a return. “We want to make sure that our people are looking at that 7th generation of our children’s children yet to be born,” said White.

Guy Lonechild, CEO of First Nations Power Authority, talked about Indigenous groups getting into solar and clean energy projects. He explained how his group partnered with the Saskatchewan government to deliver 40 megawatts of renewable energy to SaskPower.

Heather Black of Creative Spirit Solutions moderated a panel session of small business entrepreneurs who started up small businesses after getting opportunities either through trial and error, hard work, or luck.

Jordan Jolicoeur is CEO of Carvel Electric who managed to pull off a $300,000 contract through handwork, determination, and a few credit cards. Stephen Nairn is an expert on project risk analysis who saw a lack of risk capital for Indigenous entrepreneurs, so he and some friends started Raven Indigenous Capital Partners.

Teara Fraser always wanted to go to Africa, so when she had a chance to go, it was in a small plane. When the plane banked, she saw what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Frasier become a pilot and founded Iskwew Air, and today she is selling her first air surveying company.

The Growth of the Cannabis and Hemp Industry round table discussion was hosted by Francine Whiteduck and Roland Bellerose of the Cannabis and Hemp Indigenous Consortium Canada. Bellerose spoke of the way many Indigenous people have always known cannabis as a medical plant and this is why we need cooperation from as many Nations as we can get to better lobby for growth and distribution of all types of cannabis products.

Hemp and cannabis are good carbon-capture tools that have the potential to transform our economy by helping to rebuild our manufacturing industry and selling finished products to the rest of the world.  

Reconciliation will take time, but events and conferences like Forward Summit are important for Indigenous and non-native people because they remind us we have too much in common to keep going the way it has been since our ancestors were forced to accept a foreign way of life.

Forward Summit organizers Miki Reeder of Connect Partnership Group and Muskwa Media’s Nicole Robertson wanted Indigenous people who are experts in their fields of work included in the summit. After attending, I found it evident they were successful in attracting those experts. A shout out also to event co-chairs Chief Charles Weaselhead of Kainai Nation and JP Gladu, CEO of Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB).

Those interested in receiving updates and learning more about Forward Summit should visit,

Another Side of the Native Oil Activism Story

Everyone’s heard of Native protesters blocking pipelines to protect Mother Earth, but what about Natives having a stake in the oil industry? Native chiefs and representatives gathered at the Tsuu T’ina Nation’s Grey Eagle Casino to discuss the question before an audience of government officials, bankers, and oil executives at the Indigenous Energy Summit.

Stephan Buffalo is an organizer of the January 15 and 16 event who has had comments directed toward him on social media characterizing Native leaders cooperating with Big Oil and the money it brings in as, “greedy” and “sell outs.” Native proponents of cooperation argue that being a part of the business and industrial infrastructure of the Canadian economy should be reason for unity among First Nations across Turtle Island.

The oil sands are the third largest oil deposit in the world, and the existing pipeline has been in operation for 65 years. Passenger vehicles, semi-transport, trains, aircraft, and the economy are dependent upon oil, and there is no change coming in the foreseeable future. First Nations wanting to invest in a project cite these facts to gain support for a program they believe will help Natives ween ourselves off government funding, which is the goal of chiefs who spoke at the Indigenous Energy Summit urging detractors to come on board.

Tamarack Valley Energy CEO Brian Schmidt says, “If First Nations were to invest in Trans Mountain and took a stake, it would send a strong signal across Canada that there is acceptance of that; that there is another side to the story.”

While “unity” was the message of many participants and speakers, Derek Wapass of the Thunderchild First Nation says media is using the split in Native opinion to help sell their news. Wapass, who is with the group Project Reconciliation, said “News that thrives on conflict and discontent, who’s to tell our truth? With this fractured and divided approach, is it possible that many great opportunities have been squandered to our detriment? Is it possible we ourselves are creating obstacles to those opportunities? Are we getting in our way?” asked Wapass. “I believe we’re at a tipping point, where we, as Indigenous people, have an incredible opportunity to create a new way of looking at the TMX pipeline. I believe it is time we had a louder voice; a collective voice in this pipeline’s impact.”

First Nations having a seat at the table ensures proper procedures will be followed to protect the environment during both construction and the maintenance after completion, leading to economic benefits for those willing to participate and invest, according to proponents. After consulting with financial advisors and leaders, Project Reconciliation’s financial model concluded participating presents a unique opportunity for First Nations to own anywhere from a majority up to 100 percent interest in the project. “I don’t look at it from a dollar perspective, I look at it as getting it right on the environment, getting it right on the marine, and getting it right as the stewards of the land and waters,” said Wapass.

Roy Fox, Blood Tribe Chief, spoke about his people’s investments in oil and renewable technologies, and said no harm has ever come to his people, animals, land, water or air. “We have ensured that exploration, production, and transmission activity is conducted on a sustainable and responsible manner on our reserve.”

Fox said investment in the Trans Mountain pipeline depends on Bills C69 and C48 failing in the senate, bills he is opposed to and described as “deal killers.” If the bills are defeated, he and the Blood Tribe would be seriously looking at the possibility of investing in the pipeline. “We’d do our due diligence, and if it’s a sure thing, then maybe,” said Fox.

Bill C69 replaces the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act of 2012 with a new Impact Assessment Act, and replaces the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency with a new Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. The Act adds enhanced consultation with Indigenous groups that may be affected, and expands factors like traditional indigenous knowledge.

Bill 48 is the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act. It prohibits tankers from stopping or unloading at ports or marine installations along BC’s north coast if they carry over 12,500 metric tons of crude or persistent oil. The moratorium extends from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border, and prohibits loading when the additional oil results in the tanker carrying more than 12,500 metric tons of those oils.

Defeat of Bills C69 and C48 does not guarantee a new project will move forward because Vivian Krause warned any entity buying the pipeline will meet opposition from a well-funded Anti-Oilsands campaign, which has a record of effectively stalling new projects and can stop pipeline expansion.