As Ontario’s Authorized Retailer landscape continues to expand, more Indigenous store owners and budtenders are joining the cannabis industry — an important step in both economic reconciliation and increasing diversity.
Last year, we introduced you to Ontario’s first Indigenous-owned cannabis shops on Nipissing First Nation land. Since then, more Indigenous-owned cannabis stores have opened in the province — meet three First Nations Authorized Retailers building thriving businesses and contributing to their local communities.
Creekside Cannabis Store
Serving communities along the north shores of Lake Huron, Creekside Cannabis has been in business since the fall of 2020. It’s managed by the Mississagi Retail Cannabis Corporation and Mississauga First Nation is the sole owner. The store is named for the stream flowing alongside the shop — historically known among members of the Mississauga First Nation as Pahpashcah Creek — that ultimately feeds into the Mississagi River.
When setting up the store, it was important to the owners that the brand remain authentic to the Mississauga First Nation people. That’s why love of community and the importance of giving back are baked into this shop’s mission and vision. Profits generated by the store are reinvested back into the Mississauga First Nation to support the community’s goal of generating self-sustaining revenue streams, and to boost funding for Indigenous health, wellness and social support services.
Today, this store represents the Mississauga First Nation’s largest business investment in nearly 30 years. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge to navigate, Creekside Cannabis’ strong team of staff, Indigenous board of directors, and community support have helped the store thrive in uncertain times.
The Reef Store By The Lake
Open since December 2020, The Reef Store By The Lake is owned and operated by the Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation in Kenora. The store sits in the heart of Treaty Number Three Territory on the Wauzhushk Onigum reserve, on the shores of Lake of the Woods, and serves customers from multiple First Nations in the surrounding area and some 60,000 summer residents during cottage season.
The store’s lakeside location inspired its name — it was important to the owners to pay homage to the lake as a traditional source of life, food and travel for generations of Anishinaabe peoples. That connection to the land is reflected in all that the Reef Store By The Lake does. “Our logo is composed of the key components in our beliefs — water, trees, islands and wildlife. These beliefs, bestowed on us by the Creator, are pillars of our way of life,” says Chris Skead, chair of The Reef Store By The Lake and Chief of Wauzhushk Onigum Nation.
For over 25 years, the Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation has been a leader in entrepreneurial enterprises. When cannabis licence applications became available in Ontario, the community saw an opportunity for local entrepreneurship and community wellbeing; the Reef Store By The Lake was the first cannabis retailer in the area. Profits from the store help support initiatives that improve quality of life for Elders and youth in the community.
Named for the surrounding Rama First Nation, Rama Cannabis recently celebrated six months of being in business. “As First Nations People, we are not only the keepers and caretakers of the land, we are the knowledge holders of traditional medicine. It is in this tradition that Rama Cannabis was born,” says Ted Williams, store owner and Chief Chippewas of Rama First Nation.
Before opening, Williams was thrilled to receive a high volume of applications from enthusiastic budtenders who were eager to work in the shop. Today, the store is known for its exceptional customer service, thanks to 17 Indigenous budtenders who offer a wealth of cannabis knowledge. Each budtender has completed eight weeks of training, including courses provided by the OCS.
Operating alongside a fast-paced hotel and entertainment complex of the same name, Rama Cannabis is often challenged to meet the individual needs of each unique customer who comes through the door. “Our goal is to create a healthy and enjoyable experience that will ensure we are sharing their journey, earned through confidence in the service, for many years to come,” Williams says.