A First Nation on Vancouver Island will open the first Indigenous-run Starbucks in Canada

Multinational coffee chain Starbucks and the We Wai Kai Nation have announced a one-of-a-kind collaboration in Canada: a new coffeehouse operated entirely by the First Nations community.

The We Wai Kai Nation, located near Campbell River and Quadra Island on the east coast of Vancouver Island, has obtained a license from Starbucks Canada for the new cafe and plans to hire staff from among the 1,200 members from the country.

On Monday, a groundbreaking ceremony was held at the site of the future Starbucks store near the town of Campbell River.

Dressed in traditional regalia, the nation’s women performed the Tłalkwała, or Ladies’ Dance, while other members huddled for the K’amk’amxwaliła, or Downward Eagle Blessing Ceremony , with drums and traditional songs, to bless the construction of the new location .

“[Businesses] open their doors to form partnerships with First Nations communities, which we haven’t seen much in the past,” said Chief Ronnie Chickite.

“It is through partnerships, like this one with Starbucks Canada, that we will support our goal of self-sufficiency.”

Chef Ronnie Chickite says the opening of the new store has also allowed the nation to involve its traditional celebrations, such as the ladies’ dance. (Eric Kular)

Chickite says this opportunity illustrates a glimpse of what reconciliation could look like in the future, and he hopes the new We Wai Kai Nation venture will encourage more partnerships with First Nations across the country.

“This incredible moment marks the beginning of what is possible for Starbucks and First Nations communities in Canada as we continue to work side by side,” said Shannon Leisz, Vice President of Store Development at Starbucks Canada.

A Starbucks storefront is pictured, showing the logo and name
A Starbucks store is pictured in California. Unlike many other large fast food companies, Starbucks avoids franchising and only grants licenses. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

Unlike many other large fast food companies, Starbucks avoids franchising and only licenses, which gives the company more control over its stores and the quality of its products.

The store with the We Wai Kai Nation is expected to open around October this year.

Land use planning, economic opportunities

Chickite says the nation has been actively working to develop its lands and economic opportunities.

Although there is already a Starbucks in the country – licensed to be owned and operated by Starbucks Canada – he says having a second one with drive-thru was a perfect business decision.

“Cafés in general are very popular in our city,” he said, adding that the new location is near the highway. The next closest cafe, he says, is a 10-minute drive “off the beaten path.”

“It may just give [travelers] an opportunity to stay on the highway and keep going.”

The opening of the new store also allowed the nation to involve their traditional celebrations.

“Now that we are developing more of our own land, we also want to highlight our ceremonies,” he said.

“We want to show our culture more”

Chickite says the nation plans for the new Starbucks to incorporate Indigenous artwork in collaboration with local artists.

Men in native clothing and headbands hold drums and sing a blessing to the land, with an audience towering above them.
According to Chief Ronnie Chickite, the nation anticipates the new Starbucks location will collaborate with local artists and showcase Indigenous art. (Eric Kular)

“It’s great for reconciliation because we want to show our culture more,” Chickite said, adding that the inclusion of We Wai Kai Nation materials and artwork will create a safe space for the community to connect over coffee.

He says he’s excited about a future with more Indigenous-led businesses.

For Leisz, working alongside We Wai Kai Nation has given them the opportunity to learn more about their life experiences.

“Listen and learn from the people of We Wai Kai [will] help meet the unique needs and priorities of their community,” she said, adding that Starbucks’ “shared vision” with the nation will continue to inspire future collaborations with other First Nations communities.

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