On a recent ski adventure to Canada, Richard the resident Poutama vagabond took time out to spend a day with First Nations entrepreneur, Robert Louie. Robert and his wife Bernice are from the Westbank First Nation in Kelowna, British Columbia. Both are strongly linked to their ancestral lands where they’ve established their home and raised their children while developing and building businesses for themselves and their Nation.
Spending a day with this energetic and passionate person was an absolute pleasure that left one thinking how the hell does this guy do all that he does. The reason for visiting Robert was to look at the work he has done as one of the founders of Indigenous Bloom.
Indigenous Bloom is a hemp and medicinal cannabis business that has been quick to take advantage of when in October 2018, Canada passed the Cannabis Act legalising recreational cannabis. The business is experiencing significant growth that is attributed to a business model that sees Indigenous Bloom partnering with First Nations groups on a 50/50 basis.
The First Nations provide a mix of land, capital and people. Indigenous Bloom brings in further capital and the business and technical expertise to help establish growing, extraction, laboratory and retail facilities. There is an important science and R&D element that underpins all of this work.
The benefits from this model stay mainly within the First Nation and help them build a self-determining economic base as well as create employment and business opportunities within their communities. There are also a number of advantages to the First Nation through them being self-governing and not having to pay Provincial and Federal taxes. Income earned from hemp and cannabis goes back into their Nation to support a range of community and social services.
While in Kelowna a visit was made to one of Indigenous Bloom’s retail stores. The store is located on Okanagan First Nation land. It retails a wide range of hemp and cannabis products including hemp oils, tinctures and creams, and recreational cannabis products including hemp foods such as ginger and chocolate cookies. On the day of the visit they even had a special range of hemp chocolates for Valentines Day.
The Indigenous Bloom store was a bit like walking into the Garage Project’s Taproom bar in Wellington. But instead of a range of beers with funky sounding names like ‘Death from Above’, ‘Pernicious Weed’ and ‘Hāpi Daze’ being served, people were coming in discussing and purchasing cannabis products with names like ‘Death Bubba’, ‘Pink Kush’ and ‘Blueberry’ and cookies with names like ‘The Brownie’ and ‘Ginger Chew’.
Robert says that Canada is a leader in not only the way the Government has legislated the legalisation of hemp and cannabis but also in how its indigenous people are positioning themselves to be significant participants in the industry.
The idea was discussed with Robert on working with Indigenous Bloom to leverage off their intellectual and experiential knowledge to assist Māori business to participate in the emerging hemp and medicinal cannabis industry in Aotearoa.
In addition to helping establish Indigenous Bloom, Robert has his own winery and distillery called Indigenous World Winery. This includes a vineyard, a tasting room, wine shop, and a restaurant. The distillery produces very smooth and easy drinking vodka and whiskey…just saying. Robert also travels regularly throughout Canada assisting First Nations to move towards self-government.