Coffee and Reconciliation

    The We Wai Kai Nation opens Vancouver Island’s first Indigenous-owned Starbucks.

    Coffee and Reconciliation - Douglas Apr/May 2024
    Artist Jessica Chickite,s vibrant artwork blends Indigenous images with Starbucks’s siren. Photo By: Carla Duffey/Limesoda Photography.

    Looking to increase it economic self-sufficiency, the We Wai Kai Nation has collaborated with multinational coffee chain Starbucks to celebrate an Island first: the opening of a café built, licensed and operated entirely by the First Nation community. Located in the new Quinsam Crossing development, just off the Inland Island Highway between the Campbell River Airport and downtown, the word Quinsam is defined as “the resting place,” a prophetic description for the growing roadside hub of shops and services.

    The café’s interior highlights the Nation’s rich culture and connection to the land. Cedar panelling, meant to evoke towering trees, and light fixtures suggesting traditional weaving techniques create a welcoming glow. The store also features a vibrant mural by local artist Jessica Chickite. Inspired by the Nation’s creation story of the Great Flood, Chickite blends the Starbucks siren with Indigenous elements to symbolize the connection between Starbucks and the We Wai Kai Nation.

    The new Starbucks is the second location in Canada to be licensed and operated by a First Nation, and the first in B.C. The partnership encourages large companies to listen to and learn from local communities. “This moment not only represents our commitment to strengthen our relationships with Indigenous communities, but also our desire to thrive together,” says Shannon Leisz, vice-president, Starbucks Canada.

    In an Interview with CBC, Chief Ronnie Chickite said it’s through collaborations like this one that self-reliance becomes possible. “[Businesses] are opening their doors to partnerships with First Nation communities, which is something that we havenʼt seen in the past,” he said. Chickite added the simple act of creating a place where people connect over coffee is also a small step toward reconciliation.