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Indigenous Cannabis: A Way Forward

North America

Indigenous Cannabis: A Way Forward

SOVEREIGNTY can have many different definitions depending on whom you’re asking and when. In an age where borders can be crossed with mouse clicks, and the deepest depths of human knowledge can be accessed in an instant, traditional definitions of sovereignty have evolved. The National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association (NIMCA) is looking to clearly define what it means to be a sovereign nation and assist Indigenous communities in utilizing those rights to their fullest potential, on an international scale.

To be able to identify with this organization’s goals, I would first like you to understand its roots. NIMCA was founded by a group of like minded individuals from Indigenous Communities across Canada; these individuals had all come to a universal realization long ago, that if they did not act, in time their communities would disappear. Armed with this knowledge their mission was clear, stir their communities to action by imparting knowledge and awareness; they would empower them with one of the most powerful socio-economic forces in the modern world, cannabis.

I’m sure many of you are aware that prior to being outlawed, hemp and cannabis-based materials and medicines were some of the most commonly used throughout North America. Its origins in North America are still a hotly debated topic, but there is ample evidence to suggest that hemp (Cannabis Sativa L) and its closely related cousins, Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica grew naturally and were cultivated by Indigenous people prior to contact with the first settlers. NIMCA has built its platform based on this knowledge: these plants were used as medicine, materials, and for trade long before outside interference. They are also making it clear that there are many Indigenous communities would like the opportunity to continue those traditions today.

Those sentiments resonate strongly in this statement from Tim Barnhart, President/Founder of NIMCA, “This is all about inherent right. People have to realize that this plant has been here a long, long time. It’s a stolen medicine, no different than the other thousands of stolen medicines from Indigenous people. So, it’s nothing new, they use the same methods to steal this plant like they have all the others. Since we possess this inherent right, we’re going to utilize it as an economic driver.”

Barnhart however is no fool, he also understands the potential harm this industry could bring to the communities he is trying so desperately to reinvigorate. He has ensured one of NIMCA’s primary missions is to develop policies other Indigenous Communities can follow to guarantee safety and ensure quality for all parties involved. Barnhart had this to say regarding his plans to move forward “We decided to form NIMCA and design our own regulations and standards so we can license ourselves. This is a for-first-nations-by-first-nations initiative, and as long as we follow the protocol that the federal government has laid out, and actually exceed those regulations. I don’t see why we can’t have a parallel system”. With this clear purpose guiding them NIMCA has been on a path to gain recognition from the appropriate entities and assist fellow Indigenous communities reaffirm their sovereign rights in a safe and legal manner.

There will be many obstacles to overcome on this journey, no one knows that better than Barnhart himself. With the impending legalization of recreational cannabis sales across Canada, many groups, including the government themselves, are trying to get “their piece” of the proverbial “cannabis pie”. This has left NIMCA in somewhat of a political maze to navigate. Barnhart states “There’s the local political connection, then there’s the federal politicians who really don’t want to see us doing this at all. There’s been no consultation [with Indigenous communities] on Bill C-45 and C-46”, also commenting on difficulties even getting an audience with the appropriate governmental bodies “we’ve organized ourselves in the cannabis industry under the National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association (NIMCA). But the feds don’t seem to want to talk to us”. It seems clear to Barnhart that if Indigenous communities are not given their chance to be heard on this topic and regulations are imposed upon them without consultation, that it’s yet another loss these communities might not be able to afford.

Becoming recognized is only the first step; other potential hurdles to overcome include convincing other communities to unite under NIMCA versus seeking out other potential partners. Barnhart warns “There is a third camp forming too: that’s the push from corporations. For example, former Assembly of First Nations (AFN) national chief Phil Fontaine has a corporation with a non-Aboriginal partnership. They can enter a first nations community and put up a licensed producer and start to grow. The problem is, the profits go the corporation while the band council receives very little and that money is subject to taxation.” Also adding “We have a right to our own land and flora, as outlined in the U.N.D.R.I.P. agreement. I think first nations have a pretty bright future depending on band councils, who are federally sanctioned and controlled.”. U.N.D.R.I.P. is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which affords certain irrefutable rights to the Indigenous population of any land and is a key aspect of NIMCA’s legal strategy. However, for a struggling community whose problems demand attention now and not later, the promise of a quick fix can be enticing and the ramifications of such a decision may not be immediately apparent, but they would certainly be severe.

Despite the challenges they must overcome, NIMCA seeks to stand as the shield for Indigenous communities across Canada and shelter them from the political maelstrom their people were thrust into. They will become the tool with which oppressed communities can use to lift themselves above the rising tide and assert their sovereign rights. Maybe that’s what true sovereignty is, utilizing the tools you’ve been provided to their fullest potential; perhaps its standing united for a common purpose. As far as the members of NIMCA are concerned, the definitions are wholly intertwined.



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