A First Nation in central B.C. has started construction on a massive cannabis growing facility.
Community members came to show their support this week for the band-owned Sugar Cane Cannabis – a farming facility built on reserve land.
“That seed to sale model, farm-to-gate is how they coin it. It’s going to be the first of its kind in B.C. and one of the few in Canada,” said Williams Lake Chief Willie Sellars.
“I think it’s the first one on First Nation land in the country.”
Sellars said the project received $750,00 from the federal and provincial governments.
Construction of the facility, which is expected to open next year and produce 600 kilograms of cannabis per year, will create 30 local contracting jobs. There is expected to be work for 20 people once the doors open.
Williams Lake sees the cannabis business as an opportunity to build self-sufficiency.
Their region has faced economic struggle the last few years from a downturn in the forestry industry, the Mount Polley Mine failure and, most recently, the pandemic.
The farming facility will be built next to their cannabis retail shop, which has been operating for a year.
Profits from the retail location helped provide funding for 20 students to attend post-secondary school this year.
“Where did some of those dollars come from? From cannabis – I think that’s pretty neat,” said Sellars.
“They didn’t all come from cannabis, we pulled them from numerous budgets, but that’s what we’re able to do creating in this region where the economy has taken some massive hits.”
Although the cultivation facility is built on reserve land, it is being built within city limits which led to push back from the City of Williams Lake.
“We have reached out to the city,” noted Sellars. “We would love to hear their concerns in written form so we can respond to them, so that we keep it documented; so we can move forward and hopefully that leads to a council to council meeting so we can hammer out some of this issues and move forward.”
Sellars credits a strong band council with helping their nation grow. They recently changed their name from Williams Lake Indian Band to Williams Lake First Nation.
While construction is taking place on their farm to gate cultivation facility, they are also building a new band office.
Their goal is to lift their nation as well as the region economically.
“Giving them an opportunity for good paying jobs right close to home where they are going to be able to not only provide to the family but be home every single night,” said Sellars.
“We’re going to continue to move along and do what we do. I said it before, but we’re able to do that because of the amazing staff we have here.”
The $3-million facility is expected to be operational and open for customers by 2021.