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Cannabis, argues Christian Sinclair, represents an opportunity to bring Canada and its First Nations closer to reconciliation, even if the effort turns out to be one-sided.

“The federal government said Indigenous people would be a part of [cannabis legalization], but of course they forgot to consult us on Bill C-45 [The Cannabis Act],” said Mr. Sinclair, Onekanew (chief) of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and a director of retailer National Access Cannabis (NAC) and financier Trichome Financial, during an interview with Cannabis Professional in Winnipeg. “So we said we are going to figure this out for ourselves.”

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Mr. Sinclair met former NAC president Derek Ogden three years ago, just when the company was looking to roll out its chain of Meta Cannabis stores across the country. Mr. Ogden wanted to talk about working with the Opaskwayak on an urban reserve, but Mr. Sinclair says he convinced him to accept a $3-million equity investment instead.

Later, after Mr. Sinclair had joined the board and NAC needed $35-million in financing, it was the Opaskwayak Cree that agreed to loan the money.

“Using our own source of revenue from future earnings on the international bond market we figured it out through the First Nations Financial Authority, we lent them $35-million and got it paid back in three months with $3.5-million in fees and interest,” Mr. Sinclair said. “So, making more money in three months than we ever have in any year of our business dealings, like way more.”

Chief Christian Sinclair of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Winnipeg Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (John Woods for the Globe and Mail)

JOHN WOODS/GLOBE AND MAIL

Today, his community is among the largest shareholders in NAC and isn’t stopping there. Mr. Sinclair also sits on the board of Trichome Financial, a cannabis-focused private equity firm launched in early 2018 by Marc Lustig of Origin House (formally CannaRoyalty Corp.) and Aaron Salz of Stoic Advisory.

Trichome is due to begin trading publicly on the TSX Venture Exchange on Thursday, and, on Sept. 20, Origin House announced it would borrow another $15-million from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, bringing the total debt the company owes the community to $27-million.

“[In September]Mark [Lustig] needed money and asked if it would be possible for OCN to help,” Mr. Sinclair said. “He went into a blackout period where he can’t sell shares or anything, so I said yeah we’ll lend you money, but here is our terms and of course it is healthy terms to us.”

In total, the Opaskwayak Cree Nation has $50-million invested in cannabis and Mr. Sinclair said the success of his community can serve as a model to other First Nations across Canada.

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“When we look at the history of Canada, First Nations were very successful in European contact with the fur trade, we were equal players if you will,” he said. “Then once government established itself here and the industrial time that came and went and [First Nations] weren’t a part of it, the technology piece we missed that, so now with cannabis, it is the new fur trade, if you will, where we have the ability to be equal participants.”

In hopes of creating more opportunities for other First Nations to participate in the legal cannabis industry, Mr. Sinclair is also part of a group of First Nations leaders crafting a plan for a separate cannabis regulatory regime due to be completed by early 2020.

“That would be in tandem with Health Canada’s cannabis framework, basically we want to control it from seed to sale but in a First Nation framework that will meet or exceed [Health Canada’s] own policies and procedures,” he said. “We just want to make sure there is a piece of that economy we can hive off for ourselves and allow us to be players in the market on our terms.”

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