Provincial governments and First Nations communities historically haven’t seen eye-to-eye when it comes to their self-government, however, just before the New Year, at least four bands across the country have come to agreements with their respective provincial regulators.
In December 2020, Cowichan Tribes and the Province of British Columbia came to a temporary agreement, allowing the community to grow and sell cannabis. According to a press release, the agreement enables Cowichan Tribes to continue cannabis production and retail, incorporating some version of the provincial framework while still allowing for the unique needs of the community. Under Section 119 of the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act, governments can enter into agreements with Indigenous Nations with respect to cannabis in order to facilitate more meaningful government-to-government relationships and encourage collaboration.
Squtxulenuhw, Chief William (Chip) Seymour of Cowichan Tribes, said that the agreement will provide new economic development opportunities and help Cowichan Tribes advance its interests in jurisdiction and self-determination. “This agreement is a positive move forward and reflects the commitment of both our Nation and the Province to continue working government to government to advance our respective priorities and objectives in the cannabis sector,” he said. “Further discussions are needed, but we are very positive we will achieve our collective goals.”
Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation in BC, agreed.
“The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act is a major shift in provincial-Indigenous relations in B.C.,” he said. “Entering innovative arrangements like this cannabis agreement is one example of how the Province and First Nations are working together to support the growth of the industry and create new, innovative economic opportunities for Indigenous communities.”
Snuneymuxw First Nation
Around the same time, the Province of BC entered another agreement with Snuneymuxw First Nation to support its interests in the cannabis industry, particularly cannabis retail. According to a press release, the community is focused on operating stores with a good selection of regulated products, but the agreement allows for a bit more flexibility to better fit the needs of the Snuneymuxw First Nation while still existing within the regulatory framework. Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief Mike Wyse said that the agreement is significant for the Nation. “It creates career opportunities for our people, income for our government and, most importantly, an opportunity to further advance economic reconciliation and develop our economy as a Nation.”
MLA for Nanaimo Sheila Malcolmson praised the agreement as well, saying that it was an example of the province and First Nations finding new and innovative ways to work together. “Opening its new cannabis retail store is a credit to Snuneymuxw’s Chief and Council working hard for new economic models,” she said.
Mi’kmaw in Nova Scotia
On the other side of the country, First Nations in Nova Scotia are paving their own paths. Two of the largest Mi’kmaw communities in Nova Scotia, Membertou and Eskasoni, have each made unique deals with the provincial regulator.
Eskasoni, which had originally considered hosting its own regulatory framework for retail, decided to defer enforcement to the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) and the RCMP. This would involve provincially regulated retailers and products operating in the community and shutting down any illegal retailers.
It’s because of this that Membertou decided to go in a different direction. According to a CBC article, the First Nations community within the city of Sydney has 15 private retailers operating and providing products to customers already. Because an agreement hadn’t been reached between the two governments, local RCMP published an open letter in the community’s newsletter warning of an upcoming crackdown due to complaints that the stores were operating in residential areas. After a vote in the community, however, citizens decided to keep the private stores as long as they are regulated—but by the band.
As of now, no official agreement has been made, but the band says that more details will be released next year.
First Nations communities in Canada have the right to self-government and nations within a nation and cannabis is no different—they should be able to determine the level of participation and regulatory framework that works best for their specific communities and cultures, not to mention the economic benefits that come with it. Now that governments are beginning to understand this, it’s refreshing to see some cooperation.