Cannabis and Indigenous Sovereignty in Canada with Cheryl Maurice

Hi Cheryl, I’m really excited to talk to you. I found your work by digging through the net for Indigenous women in Canada in the cannabis industry and found Digital Buffalo, and was just intrigued. I’d love to hear more about it.

So, I’m Dene, we’re from the northern part of Canada, northern Saskatchewan. I don’t know if you know much about the residential schools in Canada, we’re currently going through the truth and reconciliation commission. We’re now getting more recognition for what we went through, but also trying to change how we move forward. This is ‘The Great Reset’, right? What does that mean for us, as Indigenous people? We’re different, we speak a universal language. We’re not about race or anything like that. This is why we have our medicine wheel with all the four colors of the world in the four directions. I was raised on the land. I didn’t speak English till I got to grade school. I’m very proud of my language. 

This was about five years ago when we thought of the idea for Digital Buffalo. We were researching different technologies that are out there, and we felt that there was a need for more Indigenous people to be in the technology sector. Not only technology, but innovation as well which is really important, so that’s something else we’re working on.

I got involved firstly because of my passion and love for the plant. For us as Indigenous people, it’s a living spirit and we talk to it. You have to be in love with it, and grow with it. In every Indigenous culture, we have this traditional practice where we do ceremony and we put the seed under our tongue and that seed goes specifically with your DNA. There’s a lot of knowledge from our people that is connected to Mother Earth. This is why the environment, the water is so important to us, protecting it as well.

When we incorporated Digital Buffalo it wasn’t just about technology but also about training our people, which we are going to be working on as our second phase. We wanted to get more of our people into the technology world, because I always say we speak the universal language. We are visual learners. Everything that went on in the past, the things that happened that are not so good in this world as a whole, affected everybody. It didn’t only affect Indigenous people. It affected every race and color.

The way that I understand it is, cannabis as a plant is now one that is being commodified, healing being commodified and sold despite the fact that it has been integral to Indigenous as a whole. Even in terms of the ways that the plant has been stigmatized, and villainized and criminalized and yet there’s this huge booming business culture around it.

With us, inclusion means everybody. It doesn’t matter what color you are. There’s a difference there with like minded people who want to do wonderful things with the plant, and on the other side you have the corporate washing. Corporate washing means, it’s only for a profit. They have absolutely no respect for the plant. What they did with cannabis in Canada, I was involved from the beginning right before legalization. I was involved with many different events and I even spoke at the Canadian Hemp Alliance conference back in 2019. We try to have Indigenous inclusion in the cannabis sector for a few reasons. One in particular: tobacco was our plant, it’s our ceremonial plant. Corporations came in and added chemicals to make it addictive and sell it for a profit. I was in this fight ten years ago with the government. And that’s exactly what I told them. You stole it, you poisoned it and you made a profit out of it. That’s why I called it corporate washing. That’s why I got involved with the sector. Not only that, but it’s done wonders for me as a medicinal plant. I’m involved with this group of like minded people who want to heal people through natural medicine that doesn’t have side effects, not like big pharma. If I were to tell you of all the companies that offered me big money but didn’t have good intentions that I walked away from, I could’ve been a very wealthy woman. But I stuck to those beliefs for a reason. 

I was involved with the whole legalization process here in Canada and it turned out to be the same way as what they did with tobacco. They separated medical cannabis from recreational cannabis which is silly, because there is really no difference. I then found out the difference was that they took out the medicinal value of recreational cannabis and turned it into another addictive drug. It’s hard for a lot of people to actually see the truth of what’s happening in the world. There are two groups, one that wants to do good and one that wants to make money. That’s the reality of what’s going on right now. To me it’s not right and I’m still actively involved with everything we’re trying to do on the Indigenous side. 

In Canada, they put us on these lands and called it reserves. We have these treaties, 1 – 11, I’m part of treaty ten. That was an agreement between my nation and the crown to work together and to co-exist. But it didn’t turn out the way we thought it would, because history kept repeating itself. That’s why a lot of our people were left oppressed with highly addictive behaviours and higher rates of suicide. You know how they say third world countries, well come and visit our reserves and you’ll see a third world country. That doesn’t make sense to me because they help organizations all over the world, but they forget their own. 

We have our own lands, that they call ‘reserves’ which they put us on. We’re actually sovereign nations and a lot of Indigenous groups in Canada are exercising their sovereign rights right now. A lot of First Nations have told the government to back off, that we’re going to create our own cannabis bylaws, our own quality control, our own research. We’re going to do business here. There’s over 150 sovereign dispensaries on the reserve. But once again, we’re handcuffed because the money that we make from the dispensaries, we can’t put it in a bank account because they say it’s illegal. Even though they gave us that right to be sovereign. Yet they have a hard time when it comes to us creating our own economic opportunities. That’s why there is so much poverty in our communities. 

Digital Buffalo was something that I created because I was really interested in technology, because of the weather up here. We were thinking of doing indoor agricultural farming using various technologies, so that’s another concept that we’re working on right now. I have some really interesting people in my circle. Right from a technologist to a permaculturist to an agronomist. Just good people that want to do good things. So lately, it seems like everything is kind of moving forward. Our projects are moving and more people are paying attention. It’s an amazing time to be alive. Now is the time to make a difference. 

Working with like minded people, with people whose intentions are so aligned to do right, it just creates so much innovation. You can only really consider new possibilities whereas, when it’s a profit based model, you can only go so far till you hit a ceiling of perpetual consumption.

I’m in Australia right now and medicinal cannabis is legal but it’s not widely used. I just wonder how that could change if our First Nations people were given more autonomy with the plant. Hearing your story is inspiring and encouraging.  

It sounds like for the most part, you’re working autonomously from the larger business of cannabis – do you think about the changes that could be made if they were working more ethically?

If we didn’t have to fight with corporations to do what we wanted to do, there’s a lot of things they say that are ‘illegal’ even though we know that they work. The difference is we want to heal people and they just want to suppress people. Our vision would be to build our healing lodges, so if a doctor says you have six months to live, then people could come and see us. I work under the guidance of the tribal clan grandmothers. They guide me on everything that I do, and I have to be true to what I do, and truthful as well. That’s an important component of what I do. There’s not very many people like me, I would say. That doesn’t make a difference to me, because I know as a woman, I have leadership abilities and I know that with what I’m doing, it’s a plant for the children, the grandchildren. I’m a grandmother of three, and when you’re moving into the future and you see what’s happening, and you’re working with all these different spiritual people that can see what’s coming, then you have to have that vision of: what is it that we need and how can we start working together to create unity. How can we create revenue with what we’re planning? We have markets, we’re one of the biggest plant and root medicine companies in the world. We’re using our own Indigenous branding because we did studies and found that a lot of people would prefer our own branding than something else. It’s more like promoting healing, wellness, the whole element of the medicine wheel. Mental, physical, spiritual wellness.

That would be my vision. I have a lot of people on my team with amazing gifts. I feel so free about what I’m doing right now, I know it’s going to work. Now is the time, the Great Awakening is happening now. 

Cheryl Maurice is a member of the English River Denesuline Nation located in northwest Saskatchewan. She is very fluent in her language. She spent over 25 years as a team member in the Indigenous governance sector and developed a natural talent for business.

Cheryl is an avid entrepreneur and is currently involved in creating natural healing products and sustainable solutions with industrial hemp, cannabis, food sovereignty plus innovation and technology.

Cheryl has always been driven to create opportunities and solutions for Indigenous groups and continuously strives to create economic independence. She credits the passion to her grandparents who helped raise her and taught her the importance of maintaining culture and traditions while living off the benefits of the land.

She has also planned many events including national events focused on creating economic independence. Her passion to help people continues as she works hard to bridge the gap. Her dedication and wide network of international clients has demonstrated that she carries a desire that will no doubt assist people to create a quality of life that she has always dreamt of.