FLANDREAU, S.D. (KELO) — Sitting about 35 meters from the front doors of the Native Nations Cannabis dispensary in Flandreau is a 30+year-old steel building that contains the next stage of the operation’s expansion.
The building has had many uses over the years, the most notable being the original home of the Royal River Casino. It has also been a bowling alley, and before either of those, a printing press.
Now, it’s set to have a new purpose, as the home of the tribe’s second cultivation facility.
Currently, Native Nations, operated by the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, has one operational cultivation facility which supplies their dispensary with about 80 pounds of product each week. Soon, they hope to be operating the second facility.
“Our average right now would be around 80lbs per week — we’ll be able to increase our capacity to over 120lbs a week out of this building alone,” said Renato Paoli, one of Native Nation’s cultivation managers.
Paoli says this new facility will more than double the current 5,000 square feet of flower canopy. Combined with the existing facility, this will allow Native Nations to produce at least 200lbs of product each week. These are averages, notes Paoli, clarifying that under optimal conditions, the new facility alone could potentially produce up to 200lbs a week.
Native Nations runs what is called a perpetual harvest system, Paoli said, meaning that there is always a crop ready for harvest. He says that the cultivation center currently grows 30 different strains of cannabis, and is working toward the goal of always having each of those 30 available at all times in order to provide the best medicinal selection for patients visiting Native Nations.
Once the new facility is up and running, Paoli says that Native Nations should be able to meet that goal. “We should be able to release six new [strains] every week for the whole year — it will bring more variation to the medicine in the state, and it will help patients get more relief because they’ll have more options,” he said.
Paoli started studying plants in 2015, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Stockton University in New Jersey, where he was involved in professional growing before relocating to South Dakota to work with Native Nations.
The tribe hopes to see the facility finished by July, 2022, with product ready to harvest by November. This is a delay from when they hoped to open the new cultivation center, which was originally meant to be done by April. As with many industries these days, supply chain issues have led to delays.
Tony Reider is the president of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, a position he’s held since 2010. He’s excited about the expansion and the direction in which Native Nations is growing. “It’s been a long process,” he said. “We started in 2014, and to get it across the goal line, and to be able to prove to the membership that we are able to get these done and be successful — this is just the beginning, and we’ve got so many other opportunities.”
Indeed, the planned expansion of Native Nations is not only limited to the city of Flandreau (though a third cultivation building is also being constructed there).
“We’re looking to step into the industry in a big way,” Reider said. “We’ve been successful with two projects in New York, one on the Mohawk Reservation in upstate New York — as well as on the Shinnecock Reservation on Long Island.”
Native Nations is also partnering with a project just north of Boston and is also considering ventures in Florida, Oklahoma and California. The tribe has a wider view as well however, as Reider mentioned that the business is considering expansion to islands in the Caribbean and another undisclosed location overseas, where their head grower Jonathan Hunt is currently visiting.
Reider says there has been a lot of support for Native Nations from the local tribal community.
“For the community — from a medical standpoint — it’s helping change lives of people, and we’re happy to see people get some relief,” Reider said.
The facility has also provided opportunities for the community. “This could change a lot of things for the future of the tribe as a whole,” Reider said. “You know, different programs we can implement, and different expansion opportunities as we’re taking the product and the brand nationwide and worldwide.”
Some of the programs that Reider referenced when asked include cultural programs and treatment facilities to help reintroduce people into the community.
Asked about the cost of the new facility, Reider gave a ballpark estimate of $5-7 million; a hefty investment. What this budget results in however are state-of-the-art facilities with the level of quality control necessary to run an official operation.
This type of operation is strictly regulated as well, with Reider comparing it to other tribal industries such as tobacco and gaming. “It’s a cash-based business,” he said. “We’ve operated a cash-based business in casinos and been accountable for every penny of action in that casino for 30+ years. Any tribe participating in the tribal tobacco industry know weights and measures — you have to be accountable — we’ve got the same for the cannabis operation, to know where all of your product is.”