Manitoba will have both public and private retail sales outlets when cannabis is legalized this summer. But with hundreds of applicants for just four master licences for private retailers, the competition is fierce for companies aiming to secure a foothold in the market.
Howah Holdings is one such applicant. An Indigenous-owned corporation, Howah’s senior team hopes that securing a retail licence will grow economic opportunities for Manitoba’s First Nations communities.
The company is headed by members of multiple First Nations in the Manitoba region. Key team members hail from the Sagkeeng First Nation and Peguis First Nation, the company chairperson is a member of the Tseshaht First Nation, and Howah’s CEO, Sam Anderson, is a member of the Dauphin River First Nation who served with the RCMP for 25 years, most recently as the RCMP’s ambassador for aboriginal policing nationally. Howah’s chair, Chauntel Watts, is a member of the Tseshaht First Nation, and her background is in behavioural sciences and cannabis research. She’s focused on the healing properties of plants and aims to preserve the authenticity of First Nations culture.
Business planner Neil Whitesell is a member of Sagkeeng First Nation, and commercial real estate broker Cheryl Kretzmann is a member of the Peguis First Nation. Advisor to Howah is Terrance Nelson, former 5-term Chief of Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, and former Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization.
“In Saskatchewan the approach is a little bit more open than Manitoba in terms of First Nations getting involved and licensing themselves,” Nelson told Lift. In Saskatchewan, so far three First Nations communities are eligible for private retail licences, and some First Nations groups have taken action to license themselves. “But in Manitoba, it’s more of a liquor-licensing type of approach.”
Nelson pointed the Liquor and Gaming Authority of Manitoba, which he said wasn’t able to fairly include Indigenous communities in the casino gaming industry. In October of 2017, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Manitoba’s provincial government, alleging that approval for casinos in populated areas such as Winnipeg were given only to non-First Nation owners, while licensing for First Nations casinos was relegated to more remote areas.
“We’ve got a lot of things that we need to move ahead on,” said Nelson, “and one thing I can tell you very clearly is that First Nations are not going to be left out of the cannabis industry.”
Corporate citizenship and social responsibility
The company’s management team professes having community-centric values, providing integrated programs to educate and encourage responsible cannabis use.
“We want to ensure security and safety, and be involved in the community outreach and social responsibility components as cannabis is legalized,” said Howah’s managing director, Warren Cudney.