Indigenous Innovation in the Minnesota Cannabis Industry

A Tradition of Excellence

For thousands of years, Native tribes across North America have harnessed the benefits of the hemp and cannabis plants. These plants have held sacred and significant roles in many Indigenous cultures, deeply intertwined with spiritual practices, medicinal applications, and traditional ways of life.

It’s no wonder, then, that Indigenous people are emerging as leading entrepreneurs and innovators in the burgeoning cannabis industry. They are advancing the cannabis sector, guided by their rich cultural heritage and a commitment to sustainable practices. Today, tribes in Minnesota are poised for their turn.

Pioneering Tribal cannabis projects and organizations

Innovative endeavors like Nuwu’s Sky High Lounge in Las Vegas, Nevada, highlight the social and cultural dimensions of cannabis, offering a unique gathering space that celebrates Indigenous traditions and promotes responsible consumption. Meanwhile, groups such as the Indigenous Cannabis Industry Association underscore the blend of business savvy and creativity Indigenous people bring to the industry. These initiatives demonstrate a commitment to moving the cannabis industry forward, enriching it with cultural values, innovative business models, and a holistic approach to sustainable growth.

A milestone in Minnesota

Minnesota, a state newly legalizing recreational cannabis, has seen an Indigenous revolution within its cannabis sector, primarily on reservation lands. As the broader state awaits recreational cannabis frameworks and regulations, tribal lands operate under a different set of rules governed by tribal sovereignty. This unique status allowed the Red Lake Nation to open Minnesota’s first recreational cannabis dispensary, NativeCare, marking a historic moment for Indigenous participation in Minnesota’s cannabis industry.

Located in Minnesota’s remote northern region, the Red Lake Nation Reservation is one of 11 federally recognized Tribes in the state. Its dispensary attracts hundreds of visitors daily and plans expansion, showcasing the economic and social impact of these enterprises.

Expanding Tribal cannabis opportunities across Minnesota

Minnesota is home to 11 federally recognized tribes with reservation lands. This diversity presents multiple avenues for growth and development within the Minnesota cannabis industry, particularly before statewide regulations are finalized in 2025. As more tribes in Minnesota explore opportunities in this space, they can leverage their unique cultural perspectives and traditional knowledge to create innovative products and services, while also generating economic opportunities for their communities.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s visionary project

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, with its reservation land strategically located closer to the Twin Cities metropolitan area, announced an ambitious cannabis cultivation facility project. This 50,000 square-foot facility represents a significant investment in cannabis cultivation, and will likely provide considerable economic benefits to the region. Incorporating sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, the facility aims to showcase the tribe’s commitment to responsible stewardship of natural resources while meeting the growing demand for high-quality cannabis products.

While the facility itself will be located in Onamia, Tribal leadership sees this colossal facility as an operation that will benefit the fellow Native-owned cannabis businesses in Minnesota by selling their cultivated products to the Red Lake Nation and White Earth-owned stores, as well as whatever Native-owned cannabis retail businesses are created. The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe also legalized the use of cannabis on their lands last August, so the framework for a successful cannabis business has already been somewhat planted.

Acknowledging the role of Indigenous peoples

Joe Nayquonabe, Jr., CEO of Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures (“MLCV”), highlighted the significant role Native Americans play in the cannabis industry and the potential of their cultivation facility. Expected to produce an impressive 1600 pounds of cannabis flower monthly, will no doubt leave a big mark. Nayquonabe emphasized the importance of respecting traditional values while embracing innovative business practices, stating, “Our ancestors have long understood the medicinal and spiritual properties of this plant. We are honored to continue this legacy while also creating economic opportunities for our people.”

Economic and regulatory considerations

The operation is being planned to produce an impressive 1600 pounds of cannabis flower monthly, and it will create 30-40 skilled jobs in Onamia, significantly impacting the local economy and providing employment opportunities for tribal members and the surrounding community. Furthermore, MLCV’s commitment to compliance with forthcoming state regulations demonstrates a proactive and responsible approach to cannabis cultivation and sale. This facility is poised to not only serve the local community but also support other Native-owned cannabis businesses across Minnesota, fostering a supportive network and supply chain within the industry.

National impact

The construction of this large-scale facility could be a watershed moment for Indigenous involvement in the cannabis industry, not just in Minnesota but across the United States. With the industry’s estimated sales reaching $1.5 billion by the end of the decade, Native-owned cannabis enterprises are well-positioned to thrive and expand, further embedding Indigenous innovation and leadership within the national cannabis landscape.

As more states legalize and regulate cannabis, the potential for Indigenous-led businesses to make their mark on the industry will only continue to grow, bringing unique perspectives, sustainable practices, and a deep reverence for the plant’s cultural significance.