Visitors to the Yukon can now explore local Indigenous culture as they sip their morning coffee, preparing for the day’s adventures.
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 educate people about Indigenous history and culture and give back to the community.
“I was looking for an educational platform to be able to educate individuals in Yukon, across the country, and internationally about our Indigenous peoples,” Nagano says.
“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.”
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.
Currently, three different roasts are sealed in three unique bags, all designed by Tlingit multidisciplinary artist and Kwanlin Dün First Nation citizen Mark Preston, in his Northwest Coast formline style.
“I’ve never seen such incredible artwork on a coffee bag,” Nagano says.
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.
“Many of Preston’s pieces are purposely left untitled to allow for open interpretations and meanings,” one excerpt says. “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 was enthusiastic.
“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,” Preston says.
“Having art represent the interests of First Nations is important to the community,” he adds.
Preston’s designs are just the first run of packages, with the aim of featuring other Yukon First Nation artists later.
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,” Nagano says.
Nagano would like to see First People Coffee 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.”
Pick up a bag of First People’s Coffee at various retailers across the Yukon – visit firstpeoplescoffee.ca for details.
– Dylan MacNeil is a freelance writer based in Whitehorse.