First Nation on Vancouver Island to open 1st Indigenous-led Starbucks in Canada

By Arrthy Thayaparan · CBC News · Mar 23, 2023 (Used with Permission.)

Multinational coffee chain Starbucks and the We Wai Kai Nation have announced a first-of-its-kind collaboration in Canada: a new cafe location operated entirely by the First Nation community.

The We Wai Kai Nation, located near Campbell River and Quadra Island on Vancouver Island’s eastern coast, obtained a licence with Starbucks Canada for the new coffee shop, and plans to hire staff from the nation’s 1,200 members. 

On Monday, a ground breaking ceremony took place at the site of the future Starbucks store near the town of Campbell River. 

Dressed in traditional regalia, women from the nation performed the Tłalkwała or the Ladies’ Dance, while other members huddled for the K’amk’amxwaliła, or Eagle Down Blessing Ceremony, featuring traditional drumming and singing, to bless the construction of the new location. 

“[Businesses] are opening their doors to be in partnerships with First Nation communities, which is something that we haven’t seen a lot of in the past,” said Chief Ronnie Chickite.

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

Women in indigenous cloaks dance with their hands up in a circle under a small white tent
Chief Ronnie Chickite says the opening of the new store has also allowed the nation to involve their traditional celebrations, like the Ladies’ Dance. (Eric Kular)

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

“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,” said Shannon Leisz, vice president of store development at Starbucks Canada. 

A Starbucks storefront is pictured, showing the logo and 'Starbucks' name.
A Starbucks store is pictured in California. Unlike many other major fast food businesses, Starbucks avoids franchising and only grants licences. (Eric Risberg/The Associated Press)

Unlike many other major fast food businesses, Starbucks avoids franchising and only grants licences, which gives the company more control over their stores and the quality of their products.

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

Developing land, economic opportunities

Chickite says the nation has been actively working to develop their land and economic opportunities. 

While there is already a Starbucks in the nation — whose licence is owned and managed by Starbucks Canada — he says having a second one with a drive-through was a perfect business decision.

“Coffee shops in general, they’re quite busy in our town,” he said, adding the new location is by the highway. The next closest coffee shop, he says, is a 10-minute drive “off the beaten path.”

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

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

“Now that we are developing more of our own land, we want to showcase our ceremonies as well,” he said

‘We are wanting to showcase more of our culture’

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

Men in Indigenous clothing and headbands hold drums and are singing a blessing to the land, with an audience overlooking them.
The nation plans for the new Starbucks location to collaborate with local artists and showcase Indigenous art, according to Chief Ronnie Chickite. (Eric Kular)

“This is great for reconciliation as we are wanting to showcase more of our culture,” Chickite said, adding 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 for a future with more Indigenous-led businesses. 

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

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


Arrthy Thayaparan

Arrthy Thayaparan is an associate producer at CBC Vancouver. She’s interested in health, environment, and community stories. You can contact her at