A hot cup of coffee in the morning is almost a universal experience. And now, Yukoners can start the day off with a fresh pot of Indigenous-owned brew.
First People’s Coffee is owned by Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin First Nation beneficiary and citizen Gina Nagano. Nagano is also the founder of Shezho Zhur — House of Wolf and Associates, an organization that focuses on community safety and justice.
Coffee is not the only thing Nagano is serving up with her new company. The brand also aims to use its platform to educate people about Indigenous history and culture and give back to the community.
“How it came to be was, I was looking for an educational platform to be able to educate individuals in Yukon, across the country, and internationally about our Indigenous peoples,” said Nagano.
“I thought, ‘What’s the first thing most of us do in the morning?’ Drinking a cup of coffee. There’s nothing like a great cup of coffee in the morning to get you going.”
The company is a partnership with Whitehorse-based Firebean Coffee Roasters. First People’s Coffee sells whole beans and grounds, sealed in packages that promote Yukon First Nations artists, while supporting them with a portion of the proceeds.
Right now, there are three different roasts with three different bags, all designed by Tlingit multidisciplinary artist and Kwanlin Dün First Nation citizen Mark Preston. There are deep blues, reds, and yellows. One bag is black and gold. Each package adorns Preston’s Northwest Coast formline style.
“I’ve never seen such incredible artwork on a coffee bag,” said Nagano.
After the art catches a customer’s attention, Nagano hopes it will draw them to a QR code on the back that leads to the First People’s Coffee website. Once online, people can learn about Preston and his work.
An excerpt from the site partially reads, “many of Preston’s pieces are purposely left untitled to allow for open interpretations and meanings. Preston cites European masters Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci as early influences, although works by Picasso, Mark Rothko, and Northwest Coast artists like Bill Reid, Robert Davidson, Roy Vickers, and Ted Harrison have all served to influence his more recent works.”
‘The power of art’
When Nagano asked Preston to design the coffee bags, he really liked the idea.
“Gina has a vision for the people that transcends and melds many of the things we share in common with society as a whole. We both share that insight with the power of art and its many creators in our people or our community,” said Preston.
“Having art represent the interests of First Nations is important to the community,” he added.
Preston’s designs are just the first run of packages. There are plans to do more work with other Yukon First Nation artists.
Nagano plans to use the platform to spread awareness of more than art. Each roast bears the name of a Yukon location within Kwanlin Dün First Nation traditional territory, translated by an Elder into Southern Tutchone. There’s Chū nLìn (Miles Canyon) light roast, Tthé Mbáy (Grey Mountain) medium roast, and K’ak’wän T’anagrū (Ibex Pass) dark roast. The goal is to teach the public about Indigenous languages and traditional territories.
“I’m talking about our culture, our language, our traditions, where we live, who we are, and about the hard things like educating people about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,” said Nagano.
Nagano would like to see First People Coffee expand to be sold all over Canada and include work of Indigenous artists from different regions.
“There’s nothing more that I’d love to see than getting this promoted across the country and educating the rest of the world about who we are,” said Nagano.
You can pick up a bag of First People’s Coffee at various retailers across the Yukon.
Dylan MacNeil is a freelance writer based in Whitehorse.