Indigenous-owned chip company carves its own path in Quebec

Owners of a small indigenous company are trying hard to assert their product in a market dominated by large brands. Because of help from a Kahnawake family the product is gaining in popularity in Montreal. (Global News).

The first thing that might catch a customer’s eye when they see a bag of Tomahawk Chips is the artwork.

The images used are indeed works of art.

“They save them. They frame them,” explained Kwatsitsawi Meloche, who distributes the products in Quebec with her partner Bryan Wabie.

The potato chips come in five different flavours, including barbeque and ketchup. The product is owned by Manitoba-based Native Canadian Chip Corporation, manufactured in Ontario and distributed across Canada and in a few locations in the United States.

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According to Meloche the chips have gotten so popular, they’re selling everywhere in Quebec now.

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“Oh my!  From Listuguj all the way to Chisasibi Quebec,” she told Global News standing in front of her warehouse in Kahnawake, south of Montreal.

She said the chips are also sold outside Indigenous communities in Montreal and eventually they’ll be sold overseas as well.

Having Indigenous-owned companies like this, founder Alfred Lea believes, is part of being self-reliant.

“Well someone has to open the door to other Indigenous owners,” he said adding that he started the company in 2015.

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He insists that owning a company like that comes with the responsibility to help other First Nations, Metis and Inuit entrepreneurs as well as artists who use the chip bags to showcase their work.

“I thought that the artwork would be a great way to help our artists,” Lea pointed out. “They have no means of marketing.”

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He said they can also sell prints of the drawings.

In addition to helping artists, Lea said the company gives back to communities by teaching children.

“They learn how to do e-commerce and run a business,” he stated, adding that his business is run, including marketing, without any government grants.

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Meloche said she and her partner are already making their money back from their initial investment because the chips are so popular.

“Oh my God!  We get the little kids saying ‘oh the Indian chips are here, the Mohawk chips are here’ ” she laughed, insisting that they’re worth every bite.

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“This is why I got into the business,” she quipped. “I’m a chip-o-holic.”

Wabie agrees.

“It’s light tasting, it isn’t too greasy, it’s not too salty,” he said eating a bag of barbeque-flavoured chips.

Company officials say they will eventually add other products to their lineup.

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