Akua Nature – Health and Ancestral Knowledge Come Together
Akua Nature aims to enable First Nations to gain a foothold in marketing products stemming from their ancestral knowledge.
From: DEC - February 1, 2022
|Business: Akua Nature
Program: Regional Economic Growth through Innovation (REGI)
The financial assistance granted has enabled: The financial support has enabled: the business to acquire and install production equipment, including a spray drying system, an evaporator and a reservoir, as well as complete leasehold improvements as part of a project to launch a business that manufactures forest and medicinal products inspired by traditional Indigenous knowledge.
During this time of the year when we are all looking for a certain balance between the excesses of the Holiday period and the winter blues, it appeared quite natural for the CED team to showcase a business whose mainstay is well-being. Akua Nature stood out right from the start for this exercise.
Created to showcase the history of their people, their traditions, their culture, their way of life and their spiritual beliefs, the business—founded by cousins Mélanie and Suzie Paul—ultimately aims to enable First Nations to regain a foothold in marketing products stemming from their ancestral knowledge.
Backed by a team of experienced scientists, this brand-new business that has been in existence for barely a year specializes in extracting, packaging, and processing boreal biomass—a promising niche—including berries, medicinal plants, mushrooms, bark and needles. With its specialized laboratory capable of processing several tons of forest and plant biomass, Akua Nature is able to offer a range of products and services such as:
- The manufacture of ingredients for client businesses;
- Availability of its equipment for other SMEs;
- The development of its own products using raw materials processed from what the Mashteuiatsh community harvests.
For several years now, microbreweries have been popping up everywhere across Quebec. Mélanie Paul, Co-president and CEO of the SME, sees in this a pronounced interest among Quebecers to adopt more artisanal practices and to consume more locally—as attested by the growing sector of natural cosmetics and body care products. This trend represents an opportunity to launch and grow businesses that draw on handmade, traditional and local elements. This is one factor that led the entrepreneur to launch into this market.
Figurehead in Indigenous entrepreneurship
A winner of the 2021 Pow Wow Pitch, Akua Nature ranked first in Quebec and ended up eighth out of a total of 1642 (!) applications across North America. With its 10 employees, the business is already experiencing sustained growth and wants to work with other communities to share knowledge that would be beneficial to everyone involved.
Akua Nature’s primary objective is and will always be to equip the Indigenous community of Mashteuiatsh and the surrounding areas with modern, versatile infrastructure that is functional for marketing innovative, unique, 100%-natural products. However, Mélanie Paul would also like her business to become a sort of facilitator, a communication channel between different markets and the knowledge of other Nations.
“I would like each community to showcase its knowledge by developing products using its own ingredients, so they can all shine, grow socio-economically and never lose touch with the ethical aspect that comes from our ancestors.”
– Mélanie Paul, Co-president and CEO of Akua Nature
A born entrepreneur, Mélanie Paul has the genetic heritage, experience, openness, resilience, determination, and flair to meet this ideal. However, this Bachelor of Social Work graduate was not initially destined for the business world. Placing the human being and our relationship to our environment at the core of her decisions, this Mashteuiatsh native has been able to combine her desire to help others and her willingness to showcase First Nations culture, positioning herself as a figurehead in Indigenous entrepreneurship.
And something the entrepreneur makes no effort to hide, but draws from, is the incredible gratitude she feels at having been able to count, right from the outset, on the experience, skills, and assets of her father, who is also an entrepreneur. She points vigorously to the major gap that still exists today in opportunities for Indigenous entrepreneurs, as opposed to those available to Quebec entrepreneurs, when it comes, among other things, to issues around launching a business (including access to loans, support, coaching, advice). But she tirelessly pursues the same objective: Building bridges between cultures.
The fortysomething visionary, who also spent a promising phase of her life at the École d’entrepreneurship de Beauce, confides enthusiastically that Quebec entrepreneurs are very open to collaborating and co-creating products. It is therefore no surprise that she is working with Silicycle, a world-renowned Quebec business that specializes in designing, developing, manufacturing, and marketing fine chemistry products for chromatography, purification, analysis, and organic chemistry.
At Akua Nature, everything has been thought through based on a foundational value for First Nations: To care, yes, but not just for oneself or others; we must also care for Mother Earth. Care and respect for the environment are integral aspects of Indigenous thought, to the point where there is no need for the communities to speak about sustainable development… it is implicit in what they do! Given this principle that is inextricably linked to First Nations culture, it went without saying that the business would call on its community to implement a sustainable, responsible, and ecological harvesting method that relies on respect for traditional knowledge, balanced with Quebec scientific knowledge. It was therefore self-evident that packaging for its products (for the moment, the SME offers herbal teas, essential oils, boreal spices, and Cultural Discovery boxes) would be green, ethical, and recyclable.
Akua = To take care, with attention
Of one’s community
Of Mother Earth
In the near future, Akua Nature will expand its offering to include workshops (on meditation, the virtues of medicinal plants, etc.) and nature retreats so that people can reconnect with Mother Earth—and themselves. Because it is not so much the Earth that is in danger…but human beings. The call has gone out: Let’s take care—and with attention.