‘Our personal gray areas:’ First Nations navigate hazy hashish retail jurisdictions

More than two years after Ottawa legalized weeds, Saskatchewan’s green industry has become a gray area.

First Nations in the south-east of the province are growing into retail and operating four pot shops on their reserve space. However, they waive the approval procedure prescribed by the province.

And the government keeps leaving the ball in the provincial court, saying it is up to Saskatchewan to regulate this without touching the problems with the reserve pot deals.

However, for two bosses who talked about their communities’ recently opened stores, the problem is black and white: As signatories to Contract 4, Pheasant Rump Nakota Nation and Zagime (Sakimay) Anishinabeck have the sovereign right to do whatever they want with stores themselves want lands.

Now that they hear from other First Nations interest in opening stores, the two chiefs – Ira McArthur of Pheasant Rump and Lynn Acoose of Zagime – spoke about the latest development plans for a security association and explained what the federal government’s void law means for the sovereignty of the First Nations.


McArthur regards the provincial government as a “partner” and “neighbor,” but says that its authority has a clear end point.

“As soon as you step into Pheasant Rump, Saskatchewan no longer exists. I don’t think their jurisdiction applies to our First Nation in any way, ”he said.

He and Acoose agree that Ottawa and the province are keeping the issue in a sort of political no man’s land, with each government referring to the other when it comes to First Nations jurisdiction.

Acoose believes it is forcing Zagime into an economic position to find “our own gray areas” to make a living. It is a repetition of a historical pattern that began with the introduction of Western-style economic trade by European settlers.

However, these poorly defined areas also mean gaps in market growth.

Legislative loopholes “left a niche that needed filling and First Nations took advantage of this – we are able to develop reserve pharmacies,” McArthur said.

Together with Pheasant Rump and Zagime, Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation and Peepeekisis Cree Nation have opened pot shops on their land. For the time being they remain the only bands that do this.

All of them operate without authorization from the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA), which tasked the province with creating its cannabis control law after federal liberals legalized the pot in October 2018.

Former Attorney General Don Morgan previously told Leader Post that Ottawa should “control” the Indigenous-run pot shops or send in the RCMP “to deal with it.”

The Justice Department declined to comment on Morgan’s successor, Gord Wyant. Department spokesman Noel Busse said in an email that the provincial position was “the federal cannabis law and the provincial cannabis control law (Saskatchewan) apply across Saskatchewan.”

Enforcement questions about unlicensed pharmacies are best answered by the local police services or Health Canada, added Busse.

The RCMP media team in Saskatchewan said Mounties is taking a “measured approach,” including consultation and education, “with stakeholders and communities to combat the unlicensed sale of cannabis while respecting the rights of First Nations communities.”

The Mounties declined to say whether the province or the federal government asked them to enforce applicable laws on unlicensed business in reserve because “we don’t want to prevent the public from contacting the police”.

Canadian lawyer and constitutional scholar Dwight Newman says Ottawa botched the cannabis law from the start because they “just didn’t deal with the way they saw things go with indigenous engagement”.

Newman, a Canadian research chair at the University of Saskatchewan, said federal lawmakers could have simply added a provision to the cannabis law to provide “clarity” on two points: the First Nations’ choice to open pot shops on their own land; and to what extent First Nations, if any, are subject to provincial regulations, such as SLGA approval.

He said that given the current duty to consult expectations, the Liberal government also appears to have gotten stuck in the past by not hearing from band leaders how the looming weed law would have affected their communities “to know that they need clarity on these issues. ”

Newman proposed Section 88 of the Indian Act, which refers to provincial laws that apply to indigenous peoples, as a starting point.


It wouldn’t have been particularly difficult to look for guidance in the past, either, especially in Saskatchewan.

The provincial government and the RCMP faced a motivated and tenacious White Bear First Nation led by former boss Bernie Shepherd as they worked hard to turn indigenous casinos into a cause in the 1990s.

Shepherd and White Bear have taken their collective noses to the spotty provincial gambling laws: in 1993, the band opened the Bear Claw Casino in their clubhouse on the provincial golf course without a license.

Yale Belanger, a researcher in indigenous studies at Lethbridge University, says it’s similar to today’s pot problem.

In 1985, he explained, Ottawa said, “The provinces can run on the (casino) license piece. Then First Nations showed up and said, “We want to set up casinos.” ”

One of his main areas of research is indigenous gaming in Canada.

Now that the federal and provincial cannabis laws are in place, “the First Nations will ultimately enter into the dialogue and say,” We want to set up cultivation and pharmacies within the reserves, similar to what we do in the casinos, “Belanger said.

“The provinces will push back and say, ‘No, this is our responsibility in terms of licensing and oversight. you have to deal with us. ‘”

He suspects that Pheasant Rump, Zagime, Muscowpetung and Peepeekisis “will face strong pressure from provincial authorities to obtain licensing and demand that they come to the table for further clarification, such as a very unique jurisdiction environment for First Nations is, will develop. “


Zagime CEO Lynn Acoose says White Bear’s work on casinos provides inspiration for her community’s foray into pot shops.

“We have relied on the White Bear experience just because we saw it as a demonstration of the injustice inflicted on First Nations by federal and provincial law,” she said.

The example of an indigenous casino and current cannabis laws show how governments, according to Acoose, “legally oblige us to participate in the larger economy on our own terms. It’s a form of oppression. “

These legislative practices have roots in Canada’s settler colonial past, she says.

She cites the promises made in Treaty 4 to enable the First Nations people to fully participate in and take advantage of the settlers’ newly introduced economic activity, particularly agriculture.

The clause in question is often referred to as a “benefit to cows and plows,” Acoose said. The competing First Nations people are not allowed this full participation.

“Bring it to today’s generation. We cannot farm all of them. Our land base is not enough for all reserved to take advantage of these contractual promises. “

Like what White Bear did in 1993, her community always had to find its own, often obscure, ways “about new economies,” she says.

So far, Zagime’s store – called Omagakii – has been providing some of that livelihood in the band’s land west of Regina on Pinkie Road and Dewdney Avenue, having opened in September 2019.

The First Nation has opened a restaurant alongside the store, Moose and Bannock. Zagime also uses Omagakii revenue to build its road network at the Saulteaux Crossing.

The band also owns a building in Yorkton that they have since repaired thanks to the cannabis income.

At Pheasant Rump, McArthur said his business employed 17 band members who were still working there during the pandemic.

After Buds and Blossoms opened on Canada Day in 2019, it took about four months to “hit the black,” he said. After six months there was enough profit to fund community programs, especially for elders.

“During the winter months of October through March of this year, we paid all our elders’ electricity bills in and out of reserve. We give our elders quarterly allowances, ”he said. “We also support our school-age children with their lunch programs” by using the income from the pot shop.


The two bosses are now beginning to work out documents and regulations for an association of safety standards that will apply to all four First Nations currently doing business.

Acoose hopes the end result will be test standards: “How often do we test? What is the sampling frequency? What can we test? What are the standards in these tests that we can set? “

Once the pandemic has subsided, Zagime would like to meet with executives from the other three communities to work out the details.

She also hopes for a “legislative relationship with the federal government, possibly through an exemption in the Criminal Code for cannabis operations in reserve … Without federal legislation that recognizes our own First Nation laws, it’s quite difficult to operate.”

Newman, the law scholar at the University of S, citing white bear and indigenous-owned casinos, says any ambiguity could lead to “conflict on the street.” The provincial government also needs to ponder the implications of these past lessons (from the 1990s). “

At the University of Lethbridge, Belanger predicts that Ottawa will urge the First Nations to “negotiate with the provinces.”

“First Nations will argue that they correspond to the provinces in terms of jurisdiction and that the provinces in this environment have no overarching authority, that their relationship is with the crown, with the government.”

While the current cannabis conundrum is challenging and interesting, it’s not exactly new, he added. “It’s a very simple circus act that Canada has been performing since the Confederation in 1867. It will be a consistent government request to the First Nations to articulate clarity,” which hopefully leads to sober clarity.

– with files from Arthur White-Crummey, Regina Leader-Post