Interview with Opaskwayak Cree Nation Onekanew Chief Christian Sinclair

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In celebrating National Indigenous History Month, we thought that it would be great to pick the brain of Opaskwayak Cree Nation’s Onekanew (Chief) Christian Sinclair. Onekanew Sinclair is on Meta Growth's Board of Directors and played a pivotal role in opening Canada's first Legal Cannabis store on First Nations Land with META in the Otineka Mall in Manitoba on November 7th, 2018. Read below to learn more about our partnership.

M: What did it mean for you to open the first legal cannabis store on First Nations land?
CS: That's actually a very exciting and historic moment for us because when you look at the history of Indigenous people in Canada, we were the main players when Canada first opened up through the fur trade. That's where we had our equal opportunity to participate in the development at that time. Following that, unfortunately, we never got the opportunity to participate in the other sectors as they evolved from the industrial age, the technology age and everything in between. When [Canada] announced that cannabis was going to be legalized, we took full advantage of that opportunity as the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. This is something that we can do, and we want to be leaders in this new industry as it develops and evolves. We took full advantage of it!

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M: Why is it important to support Indigenous-led cannabis businesses in Canada?
CS: Being the original peoples of this traditional territory of Turtle Island as we call it, North America, in particular Canada, we thought of First Nations as being part of the economy as signatories to treaties between us and the Crown. [The Crown] was the partner that we had signed with before Canada became the country under its own dominion. [We wanted to be] a part of something historic and at the forefront with the right partners.

In this case, META was also a leader in the development evolution of the cannabis sector. It allowed us to partner with the right people that shared our same philosophy of business and valued our seven teachings that we incorporate in everything that we do. We sat down with Mark Goliger [CEO of Meta Growth], we met with the board members, and of course we saw very quickly that we could become a strategic partner as a First Nation, and we could also showcase and role-model to other First Nations across Canada. It's been working very well for us, and we're very happy with the success that we've achieved today.

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M: How did you come to connect with Meta Growth?
CS: When Canada announced that cannabis was going to be legalized, and in the case of Opaskwayak Cree Nation being located 6.5 - 7 hours north of Winnipeg, in a semi-remote location if you will, it was something that we knew was going evolve and take off very quickly, knowing the activity that was happening in the black market at the time, so it was going to become legal. We had to be involved in the structure of a company that was getting into the larger markets such as Winnipeg, Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver et cetera, and everywhere [else]. So we said, instead of being on the latter and being a minority player, how do we become a major player in this process?

Our economic team had [researched who] the key players were at the time. Our person was Chuck Rifici, who everyone knows is one of the leading people that helped legalize cannabis in Canada. When we met with META through a gentleman who was promoting in Winnipeg, it just so happened that Chuck was the chairperson who was known at the time as National Access Cannabis which is now META. In our research we quickly said this is the company that we want to deal with because they've got someone like Chuck Rifici on the board, we want to partner with that type of bench strengths on the board of the company. So we met with them, and they agreed to meet with the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, and no one from Toronto had ever heard of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation I don't think.

We said this is what we're thinking and this is what we're purchasing. Unbeknownst to us at the time we had a whole ask of 6 million, and already they had sold out those shares. In coming back to us they said they have room for 3 million and we said we'll take it. So we made the investment and keeping in mind this is the first time in the history of Canada that a First Nation became a major shareholder of a publicly-traded company. We didn't know that at the time we made that move. So we became the largest private shareholder with 3 million dollars and negotiated a seat on the board with the team that's in place here.

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M: How does having the META store at OCN help out the community?
CS: That's where it gets interesting. Many people may not know that it was the first legal cannabis shop on First Nations Land in Canada. There are some operating in the grey areas under sovereignty. We wanted to make sure that we were playing by the rules because if we would had taken that approach, we would have only been able to open one shop in our community.

Whereas when we became a major shareholder of a publicly-traded company, we'd hold a piece of every retail storefront right across Canada. For us being able to open [a META store] on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation land as the first official legal retail operation was historic.

From there, we recognized the benefits because it provided rent to our retail arm, which is housed in the largest mall in northern Manitoba. Number two, it created a number of jobs and number three, it is benefiting off the shared value and the business on a national scale across Canada. When people are shopping in our cannabis shop, they're also shopping in our other retail outlets. It's been a win-win-win for Opaskwayak Cree Nation. We're very happy, and we are very honoured to be a part of this historic development of META and continue to look forward to the growth and prosperity of the company as the industry evolves.
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