Cannabis growing facility is now under construction on Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe tribal lands

Two green border signs
Cars drive down Highway 169 at the border of Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe land and Crow Wing County near Onamia.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is looking to stake its claim in Minnesota’s cannabis cultivation industry. Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures, the corporate entity owned by the band, announced Friday they have begun construction on a 50,000 square-foot cannabis growing facility on tribal lands near Onamia.  

portrait of a man in suit and tie
Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures CEO Joe Nayquonabe, Jr.
Courtesy of Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures

Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures CEO Joe Nayquonabe, Jr. says that with more tribes and states getting into the cannabis industry, it’s important for the Mille Lacs Band to have a presence.

“We leaned on our tribal community to provide insight into this opportunity, paving a clear path into this venture,” said Nayquonabe.  

A national cannabis law firm, Vicente LLP, estimated the cannabis market in Minnesota could generate as much as $1.5 billion in annual sales by the end of the decade.  

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Zach Atherton-Ely is the vice president of strategic growth for Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures. He says Mille Lacs may open a dispensary “eventually,” but for now the band will grow cannabis with an eye toward supplying other tribal dispensaries and state-licensed dispensaries once they are up and running.  

Atherton-Ely says cultivating cannabis will help the tribe expand beyond their gaming business. 

“Gaming has been under threat, at times, in Minnesota, and it will continue to be in the future,” said Atherton-Ely. “If tribes can find other significant revenue streams like the cannabis industry, then I think it helps provide security.” 

Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe joins Red Lake Nation and White Earth Nation in opening its own cannabis growing facility. Both Red Lake and White Earth operate dispensaries owned by their respective nations. 

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe formalized adult-use recreational cannabis this past August allowing for individual tribal citizens to develop their own cannabis businesses on the reservation. 

In addition to increased revenue, Atherton-Ely estimates the new facility will create between 30 to 40 skilled jobs when the facility opens this coming fall.  

A blue water tower is seen from the air
Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe joins Red Lake Nation and White Earth Nation in opening its own cannabis growing facility.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Atherton-Ely also says the Mille Lacs Band has passed a set of cannabis regulations and an ordinance which aligns with Minnesota’s cannabis laws. 

“As the state issues its regulations, we will be ready to promptly adjust our operating procedures.  We’re committed to following all of the state’s health, safety, testing and tracking requirements.” said Atherton-Ely.