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First Indigenous-run Starbucks in Canada to open near Campbell River

Coffee outlet will provide the We Wai Kai Nation an opportunity to create a self-reliant economy, says Chief Ronnie Chickite.
We Wai Kai Nation and Starbucks officials watch as Chief Ronnie Chikite and Starbucks vice-president Shannon Leisz break ground on the first Indigenous-run Starbucks outlet in Canada, on We Wai Kai land near Campbell River on March 20, 2023. ERIC KULAR

Dignitaries broke ground on March 20 for the first Indigenous-led Starbucks outlet in Canada on We Wai Kai Nation land outside Campbell River.

Nation leaders hope the café is open by October.

“It’s fantastic news,” said Jason Wilson, manager of economic development with We Wai Kai Nation. “And to be the first of this kind, it’s really special.

“From the get-go, Starbucks was very open to the idea of incorporating our local art into the design concept.”

A We Wai Kai artist was approached last fall, before the licensing agreement had been signed, to come up with ideas for a mural that will influence the rest of the café’s interior design.

“We want something in here that reflects some of our nation’s local history,” Wilson said.

The ceremony on March 20 included We Wai Kai traditions such as K’amk’amxwalita (the eagle down blessing ceremony), Tsixw’idalila (a shovel groundbreaking), Tlalkwala (ladie’s dance) and Gigaxstalagalita (dignitary speeches).

It’s a first-of-its-kind Canadian collaboration for the coffee-shop giant, which licenses its locations rather than sell franchises, allowing it to keep a little more control over how the business is run.

As a licensed Starbucks store, it will be wholly operated by the We Wai Kai Nation, which will hire locally.

“We Wai Kai Nation is a proud leader in providing progressive economic, cultural and social services for its members, residents and businesses,” said Ronnie Chickite, We Wai Kai Nation chief.

“Economic development is a key pillar of our strategic plan and an important component as we move toward treaty. It is through partnerships, like this one with Starbuck Canada, that will support our goal of self-reliance.”

Shannon Leisz, vice-president of operations and business development for licensed stores with Starbucks Canada, said the collaboration is a chance for the company to learn more about the We Wai Kai Nation’s unique needs and priorities.

“We look forward to listening and learning from the people of We Wai Kai to help serve the unique needs and priorities of their community,” Leisz said by email. “Together with We Wai Kai Nation, our shared vision has now become a shared reality.

“This incredible moment marks the beginning of what is possible for Starbucks and First Nation communities in Canada as we continue to work side by side.”

The We Wai Kai Nation has 1,200 members.

Economic development has long been a goal, the Nation’s economic development manager said, and it’s paying off with operations such as Cape Mudge Resort, Quinsam Crossing (B.C. Hydro just moved into a block of offices there, rubbing elbows with branches of Island Health and the First Nations Health Authority, and others), a campsite, a shake and shingle factory, a liquor store and a wellness centre.

The Nation’s first development, a Shell station, is the third-busiest gas bar on Vancouver Island by volume, Wilson said.

“Projects such as this really allow us to be a lot more self-reliant and create our own revenue sources,” he said, “so the nation can be able to [earmark profits] for different programs.”

Starbucks outlets already exist on First Nations land in Canada, but this is the first licensed by the First Nation itself.

“We recognize that businesses have an active role to play in reconciliation and this incredible moment marks the beginning of what is possible for Starbucks and First Nation communities in Canada as we continue to listen and learn and work side by side,” Leisz said.

“Coming together with We Wai Kai Nation to break ground for the first Indigenous-operated Starbucks store is one step as part of our commitment to reconciliation and to making a positive and lasting impact on the communities we serve.”