To date, very little of the discussion surrounding the legalization of cannabis in Canada has taken up the issue of Indigenous rights. At no point did the Liberal Government make an effort to inform, consult, or accommodate Indigenous peoples in any serious way as it developed the “Cannabis Act.” Indeed, the Liberal “legalization” of cannabis explicitly criminalizes any Indigenous cannabis production or use which does not go through government channels.
Citing their inherent rights and international declarations like the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, many Indigenous people flatly deny Canada’s right and authority to decide what plants they can grow and benefit from on their own lands.
For as long as there has been a “cannabis industry” in North America there have been Indigenous people involved in it. Today, thousands of Indigenous people are employed in the cannabis industry as cultivators and retailers both on and off reserve, and many see cannabis as a plant – like tobacco – which can provide their people with the basis for greater economic independence and social advancement.
The goal of this webpage is to serve as an entry point for a discussion of Indigenous cannabis. If you have a story or resource which you think should be linked off of this page, please email email@example.com.
Table of Contents
Traditional Onkwehon:we perspectives on cannabis
Dispensaries in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory
National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association
Is Cannabis an Aboriginal Right?
This piece concerns the decision of Provincial Court Justice Edward to refuse an attempt by McMaster hospital in Hamilton, Ontario to apprehend a young Six Nations woman and force her into chemotherapy against her will. Justice Edward ruled that the mother’s “decision to pursue traditional medicine for her daughter J.J. is her aboriginal right” and that this right held even if Western medical science didn’t approve of the methods used, or even if “objectively” speaking, the indigenous medicine didn’t work. Justice Edward also clarified that he based his ruling in international law, adding that for the Haudenosaunee, this ruling “fulfills the aspirations of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states in article 24, that “Indigenous peoples have the right to their traditional medicines and to maintain their health practices… Indigenous individuals also have the right to access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services.” This article by Two Row Times and Real People’s Media founder Tom Keefer discusses the relevance of Justice Edward’s decision to the Indigenous cannabis industry. The article covers the historical background of cannabis in North America, and the legal definition under Canadian law of “Aboriginal Right.”
The History of Indigenous Cannabis: Natives, Explorers, and Colonists
This is an excerpt from pages 124-129 of The Great Book of Hemp (1996) by Rowan Robinson. It touches on historic evidence that cannabis was a plant cultivated by Indigenous people before the arrival of European settler-colonialism. Topics discussed include the Viking arrival on the continent, evidence of cannabis in the pipes of the “ancient Mound Builders”, and what Jacques Cartier saw as he first sailed up the St. Lawerence river.
The Tricky Relationship between Marijuana and American Indians
Winona LaDuke is a long time Indigenous activist. In this article she provides a backgrounder on the relationship between cannabis and Indigenous people, and discusses the changes currently underway in the United States concerning regulation of the cannabis industry in Native communities.
Lawyer Steven J. Ford on Cannabis as an Aboriginal Right
Steven Ford is a Mohawk lawyer from Tyendinaga who has represented his people on a wide range of issues. In this interview he discusses a number of legal matters relating to Indigenous people utilizing cannabis – particularly in light of the matter of Aboriginal Right.
The Legacy of Tim Barnhart
Ground zero for the Indigenous medical cannabis industry in Canada today is clearly the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory on the Bay of Quinte. In 2014, local Mohawk man Tim Barnhart opened a cannabis dispensary called Legacy 420. Since then, his business has grown rapidly, and now there are over 10 other dispensaries operating in Tyendinaga. The industry appears to be following in the steps of the tobacco and gas industries, and non-natives from surrounding communities are coming on reserve to purchase Mohawk cannabis. This article provides a backgrounder on Barnhart’s groundbreaking operation.
The Legacy Grows: Medical Cannabis in Tyendinaga
About a year after the first article, a followup article covers the continuing growth of Barnhart’s Legacy 420 store which is expanding into a new location. The new location will be more secure, and includes space for offices, classrooms, and training facilities. This article discusses Barnhart’s latest plans for the industry and includes video footage from inside the new building, and provides a guided tour of the inside.
Facility tour of Legacy 420 and July 1st Grand Opening announcement
This is the latest tour of Legacy 420’s new headquarters in Tyendinga.
An Ojibway perspective on Legacy 420
Gary Wassaykeesic is an Ojibway man from Mishkeegogamang First Nation who is politically involved in Indigenous activism in Toronto. In this video he gives his thoughts on medical cannabis, and expresses how he thinks the dispensary model can help Indigenous people throughout Canada.
Barnhart presents to the Elected Band Council in Tyendinga
Part of the struggle to establish an open cannabis industry in Tyendinaga has involved interfacing with the elected band council in Tyendinaga. This article covers a presentation on medical cannabis that Barnhart made to the Elected Band Council in February, 2017. The meeting was notable for the support that the Band Council provided for regulated medicinal cannabis operations on the territory.
One of the crucial questions concerning the Indigenous relationship to cannabis is what do traditional elders think of the plant and the industry. In this section we bring you the voices of traditional Onkwehon:we elders discussing the Indigenous relationship to the cannabis plant.
Francis Boots discusses decolonizing the Cannabis Act
Francis Boots is a Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) man from Akwesasne who has been involved in Indigenous resistance to colonialism his entire adult life as a member of the traditional Mohawk community. In this interview, Francis gives his perspective on the Indigenous relationship to cannabis and the Canadian government’s attempts to regulate it. He also talks about some of the recent efforts taking place in Akwesasne by traditional people attempting to establish an above ground cannabis industry.
Kanasaraken (Loran Thompson) on medical cannabis and the Onkwehon:we
In this interview Kanasaraken (Loran Thompson) – a Mohawk Wolf Clan chief from Akwesasne – provides his understanding of how traditional Onkwehon:we people relate to cannabis.
Mario and Buzzy Baptiste on rights and responsibilities
The Baptistes are a well known family in Tyendinaga. Buzzy Baptiste is the owner and operator of Peacemaker 420, a cannabis dispensary in Tyendinga. In this interview he and his father Mario discuss the traditional Onkwehon:we relationship to cannabis.
After Barnhart opened his store in Tyendinaga, he was continually approached by Indigenous people from other communities who were curious about how he set up operations and who were interested in beginning similar such businesses on their own territory. The need to create some kind of overarching association that could hep unify and strengthen Indigenous efforts to enter the cannabis industry led to the formation of an association in January of 2017. First known as the Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association (IMCA), and then as the National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association, this association is now ready to operate across Canada. The following are a series of stories covering the growth and development of this association.
The following videos are interviews with members of the executive of NIMCA and its various provincial organizations. All videos were recorded on March 25th, 2017 by Tom Keefer.
Speech by Kevin Daniels, National Vice President, NIMCA
The coming Cannabis revolution
The changes in cannabis legalization in Canada are going to have a major effect on many different aspects of society and economy. As indigenous communities move into the dispensary business, they are also affecting the surrounding “underground” cannabis economies.
Despite the immanent legalization of cannabis, the Trudeau government has continued to crack down on storefront dispensaries.