Yesterday Wisconsin-based Kickapoo Coffee announced plans to change its name due to concerns over cultural appropriation. The non-Native founders had “claimed a name that was never ours to take,” they admitted.
As Loretta Guzman, founder of Bison Coffeehouse, Portland’s only Native American-owned coffee shop and cafe, explains: “There are a lot of coffees with Native names, but they’re not Native-roasted or Native-owned. For me, if you’re a Native roaster, I would like to carry your coffee.”
Guzman told Native Business: “If you’re a Native roaster on a reservation, I would really like to carry your coffee, because some of our people on reservations live in such poverty. Even if I’m only spending a few thousand at a time, at least it’s that much more money going back to them and to their people. I want to see our people do better.”
While there may be misleading coffee company names out there that are actually not Native-owned, there are a handful of excellent Native entrepreneur-owned coffee roasters and shops to choose from — including the two roasters that Guzman currently purchases from in bulk.
Why lying ill in the hospital with stage 4B cancer, Loretta Guzman received a message from Creator. “I dreamt of the bison,” said Guzman, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes of Fort Hall, Idaho. “He kept trying to get closer and closer to me, until he was in my face.”
Today, a massive bison head looms over her coffee shop in Portland, Oregon. Bison Coffeehouse marks Portland’s only Native American-owned café — and it reflects Guzman’s heritage with Native-made art adorning the walls. “We’re uplifting each other. I’m a place to display your product and also to sell your product,” said Guzman, who is fully recovered from cancer.
Guzman carries only Native-owned roasters at Bison Coffeehouse. She currently buys from Star Village Coffee (formerly known as Stone Mother Coffee Roasters) and Native Coffee Traders.
Star Village Coffee
Star Village Coffee (SVC) is a Paiute-owned and “Great Basin, desert dwelling, coffee obsessing” family-operated coffee roasting company located on the Reno Sparks Indian Colony in Nevada. “We are loyal to our soil, and can’t wait to share our passion for Great Basin artistry with our fellow coffee heads. Star Village Coffee is a young startup company that’s poised to make lasting impacts on the local and national Native food movements,” the company’s website states.
Their approach to making coffee combines old wisdom with new insights, to create delicious roast profiles.
A lack of small business investment and development in the Reno Sparks Indian Colony exacerbates the growing disparity between Indian Country and what the company calls “Main Street.” SVC supports “rezonomics” by embodying “a cultural ethos of indigenous entrepreneurship,” the site states — “self-determined, resurgent, and self-sustained.”
Native Coffee Traders
Native Coffee Traders is a Fair Trade Certified Company located in upstate New York, founded by Harry Wallace, an attorney who has served as Chief of the Unkechaug Indian Nation since 1994. Meanwhile, Rebecca “Becky” Genia, a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, serves as Native Coffee Traders’ “roast master.”
The company produces eight blends of organic coffee, developed through a network of Native communities from cooperative family farms in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Peru — direct to Native American Nation Territories in North America. “When you buy from Native Coffee Traders, you not only have the satisfaction of knowing that you are drinking a healthier, tastier coffee, but that you are also helping to preserve the traditional Native farming communities throughout South and Central America,” states NativeCoffeeTraders.com.
Native American Coffee
Bill McClure launched NativeAmericanCoffee.com with his daughter, Ellie, in 2008. The proud Muscogee (Creek) member employs a strong hire-Native preference at his 12,000-square-foot operation in Fort Smith, Arkansas — where the majority of his 14 full-time employees are Native American, he says, from the Choctaw, Cherokee and Creek Tribes.
He also counts some Tribes as his customers, including the Muscogee (Creek) Nation where he supplies both their casinos and some of their offices as well. McClure is also proud of Native American Coffee’s quality of coffee: “It’s not mass produced. It’s hand picked and hand roasted in a small batch,” he told Native Business.
And up in Canada, Kaappittiaq — which means “good coffee” in Innuinaqtun — debuted in early 2019. Elders actually helm this business. It’s owned and run by the non-profit Kitikmeot Heritage Society (or Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq), and local elders comprise the board. Proceeds help to fund the society and support cultural programs, such as parka and qulliq-making workshops, and teaching children the Inuinnaqtun language, reported CBC.
Kaappittiaq embraces and Indigenous-to-Indigenous business model, partnering with Cafe Vasquez, based in San Francisco, Peru, which buys beans directly from Indigenous coffee bean farmers in the northern region of Peru.