Like many of us at the start of the pandemic, Isador Day, the former provincial president of Ontario and Indigenous businessman, was looking forward to doing something in his spare time. In addition to co-founding red market brandswhich has just released its first strains, Miigwetch and Chi Miigwetchand running his consulting firm Bimaadzwi, Day decided to do something he had never done before – grow cannabis at home.
Before he built a backyard greenhouse with his eldest son Keegan, Dai didn’t have much of a relationship with hemp. In an interview with Leafly, Day shared that despite working on the political side of cannabis, it’s been nearly 30 years since he’s consumed the plant. He realized that in order to truly understand cannabis and its potential – personally and professionally – he had to grow some cannabis.
Connect cannabis in a meaningful way
The greenhouse was a father-son project that yielded 11-foot-tall cannabis plants and some unexpected educational experiences. Dai and his son built the structure from the ground up, a DIY home project to evoke the isolation of pandemic life.
Although Day had not consumed cannabis for decades, he had had a long political career working on the political side of the plant. Now that those days are over, Dai wanted to relate to cannabis in a different way.
“I knew it would be better to grow the plant, and I understood, and I made a relationship with the cannabis itself,” Day says during a video call.
“Cannabis has so many different dimensions, the sequence of dynamics, the colours, the smell of the aftertaste, it’s all about it. I was learning something different every day. During a global crisis? That right gave me an opportunity to broaden my perspective on a lot of different things.”
The first thing you learn? That his son knows more than he knows about cannabis.
They did everything themselves, erecting a greenhouse, germinating seeds, carefully planting plants. When the plants grew out of the original structure, they added panels and improved airflow to give them the space they needed.
“What you put in it, that’s what you get out of,” Day explains.
“They were unreal plants that were 11 feet tall. It’s because of the time and care that we took, you know, using the right kind of organic nutrients, and making sure they were watered every day. Then there were times when we had to troubleshoot; there’s a little bug in there, And a bite mark on a sheet of paper, we had to figure out how to keep pests away, too.”
Watching his son in his element was exciting for a day. Keegan was the authority and enjoyed the opposite of the role, allowing his son to take over. “You watched him, he watched me, and we grew up together, along with our plants,” he says.
In that greenhouse they built together, that day had one of the most profound natural experiences of his life. Sitting in front of his plants, Dai describes feeling pure bliss.
“It was like I felt the power of life in that greenhouse. Hemp was everywhere, I felt the energy there. I felt good about what I was doing, and I had a deep feeling that I was on the right track,” Day says.
Strengthening family ties, healing intergenerational trauma
Cultivation of cannabis helped Dai overcome his reluctance and stigma around consumption. He came from an abstinence mentality, causing friction with his sons back in the day.
“When my teens were doing what teenage boys do and trying them, I was like, ‘No, that’s the opposite of what you should be doing,’ which backfired,” Day shares. “Maybe it would have been better if my sons smoked as opposed to drinking alcohol, which I will always say is the best way to go now. But I didn’t see that at the time.”
Cultivation of cannabis helped Dai to remove the stigma of him on the most intimate level of his life – his family. The greenhouse project with his son helped him understand cannabis on a different level, and also deepened his relationship with his family. Now, he is fully integrating his children into many aspects of his business.
“Cannabis, when used correctly, has a lot of really good effects for me. It has helped me open up relationships in my family a little more,” shares Day. “Through the lens of cannabis, I saw the world in a very open way. With these barriers of perception removed, I saw the plant in a whole new way. Cannabis became a legitimate discussion.”
The pair didn’t do a greenhouse last season, but Keegan remains one of the knowledge pillars for a day about all things cannabis. He shares that Keegan makes sure Day is always full of the “good stuff” and knows the doses and combinations that work best. When he talked about Keegan’s work ethic and knowledge base, the pride of a loving father was evident on his face.
“Cannabis has brought our family together in so many ways, and it has really, you know, helped strengthen our relationships,” Day says. “But also, in such a demanding market it pays to work with my children. Family businesses work together, succeed together, and thrive together.”
Indigenous supremacy in the cannabis industry
In his community, cannabis was accepted as a harm reduction tool for those dealing with the intergenerational effects of colonialism. For Day, the cannabis industry is a path to economic reconciliation and indigenous sovereignty.
“There is an essential component of multigenerational trauma from the residential school age, [affecting] Societies, families and people at the individual level. People will stay away from alcohol and will switch to cannabis because the effect of cannabis is very different from the effect of alcohol.”
Day shares that Indigenous dominance in the cannabis space could be an important part of the Land Back movement. “It’s all part of getting back to the land. To be able to work with that seed, germinate it, and plant it, all in a way that restores balance and well-being to Aboriginal communities across Canada.”
“Let’s talk about earth return. You hear a lot about how our people were affected by colonial regimes and Indian law. Racial segregation in Canada, economic deprivation, lack of land control and land expropriation. We are now looking at the return of the Earth.”
Dai and his family help remove the stigma of cannabis. It’s not the stigma surrounding consumption, which Day says is actually somewhat acceptable, but the stigma whether or not selling unregulated cannabis on their land is legal or illegal.
“This level of organizational fabric is still needed to protect communities and reduce liability and risk. This is the stigma, if you will, in terms of the legal interpretation of that – whose laws apply.”
A greenhouse may be a one-time thing, but the seeds sown were larger than a single crop. Now, he’s a man on a mission to help original brands seize their space in the cannabis industry.
“We need to remove the stigma from [legislative] Processes that allow us to take formal responsibility for cannabis in our communities. Let’s put appropriate societal laws, policies and regulations together so that our people can thrive in this way.”
“Let’s make the path wider so that there is room for Indigenous business to be in the mainstream. And I think we’ve got there.”