Indigenous Innovation Brewing in Every Cup
- Local Journalism Initiative - Campbell Stevenson | November 20, 2023
The first coffee company in Canada with a fully Indigenous supply chain aims to revolutionize the Canadian coffee scene.
Solstice Coffee, a business partnership between the Des Nedhe Group and Road Coffee, is deeply rooted in social justice and sustainability.
Alisha Esmail, founder of Road Coffee, a unique fair-trade roastery based out of Saskatoon, wanted to further her work of ethical sourcing and production within the coffee industry.
“We wanted to create a brand that made sense for the impact we’re doing, and really represented the connection from farm to cup, the connection from Indigenous farmer to Indigenous people here at home,” said Esmail. “We’re working towards economic Reconciliation.”
Her drive to address the inequalities in developing nations eventually brought her attention to the growing industries here in Saskatchewan; specifically, the Indigenous communities thriving around Saskatoon.
“We’re not just impacting coffee farmers overseas, but we have a specific footprint back here in our own backyard,” said Esmail.
She recognized her unique position, and the opportunity she possessed to help create solutions that could empower Indigenous entrepreneurs.
This journey led her to collaborate with The Des Nedhe Group.
Born from an entrepreneurial spirit, Sean Willy, President and CEO of The Des Nedhe group, a business corporation 100% owned by English River First Nation, saw great potential in what Esmail and Road Coffee were doing for the industry.
“We were introduced to Alisha through a mutual friend…and we just hit it off,”’ said Willy. “We saw what she was doing with Indigenous farmers in central America, and just with my connections and with my experience we saw that we could work with Alisha and amplify what she is currently doing.”
Esmail’s involvement and passion for Solstice Coffee brought her to reserve land, in order to work closely with the Indigenous community.
“She moved out here on reserve land, [with that] we can start employing Indigenous people where we would create one of the first Indigenous complete supply chains in the coffee industry,” said Willy.
“We can create a whole new entity called Solstice to tap into corporate Canada, to put more money into reconciliation, to put more money into procurement channels to support indigenous entrepreneurs.”
The Solstice Coffee facility is built on the English River Urban Reserve, which will help to provide more jobs to the people who call the community home.
Cups of Solstice coffee can be purchased at the Petro-Canada and the Liquor store located in the Indigenous-owned business park, located directly east of Saskatoon.
“We’re always a big believer that, First Nations need their own source of revenue to actually path their journey towards self-determination, you can’t rely on government funding for that.” Said Willy,
“The whole goal is about growing that business to create more employment and create more revenues for us.”
Starting from Indigenous farmers, every cup of Solstice Coffee will embody the spirit of renewal and positive change.
What Differs Solstice Coffee from others companies is their sourcing model and their impact,
“Right now, around the world, coffee production is going down due to of climate change and farms being abandoned because parents want their kids to go get an education and have a better life and not suffer like they have for generations,” said Esmail.
“So, unless we change how the supply chain works your morning cup of coffee is not going to exist the way it does in 10 to 15 years from now.”
Beyond offering a genuine coffee experience, Solstice Coffee will wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to support the growth and prosperity of Indigenous communities throughout Canada and beyond.