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First independent Native American-owned CBD hemp company in Wisconsin launches with start-up help

From Green Bay Press Gazette by Frank Vaisvilas May 21 2021

CAMBRIDGE – Rob Pero was never much of an alcohol drinker.

He doesn’t do well with it, so natural cannabis has always been his choice.

And when Wisconsin launched a hemp production pilot program as part of the 2018 Farm Bill, Pero jumped at the opportunity for a new business venture.

“We and another couple did a small grow just to get our hands dirty (that first year),” he said. “That kind of inspired us to do something bigger. … Times have changed. Things are a little more progressive.”

This year on an important date for cannabis enthusiasts, April 20, Pero and his partners launched Canndingenous in Cambridge, just east of Madison, as the first Native American independently-owned cannabidiol, or CBD, company in Wisconsin.

Pero is a citizen of the Bad River Ojibwe Tribe in northern Wisconsin and he incorporates some of the Ojibwe worldview into how he runs his business.

He did not grow up on the reservation and his Ojibwe father died when he was a baby. Pero’s mother remarried to a military man, and Pero spent much of his childhood in different parts of the world as a “military brat.”

He would only see the Pero family about twice a year for gatherings.

It was Pero’s grandmother who kept him connected to his culture and helped him enroll as a tribal citizen and it was later in life as Pero had children of his own that he wanted to teach them about their heritage.

“I’m proud of my heritage,” he said.

Rob Pero (center) is pictured with his uncles Kim Pero and Ed Pero at a hemp farm in Wisconsin for his new company Canndigenous, which is the first Native American-owned CBD company in Wisconsin.

In his journey of discovering where he came from, Pero spent time with tribal elders learning about his people’s philosophy, and one major takeaway he applies to his business is to do everything in life “in a good way,” whether it’s brushing your teeth, running a meeting or spending quality time with your kids and actually listening to what they have to say.

“It’s a simple mantra that can be applicable to every aspect of life,” Pero said.

Running his business in a good way means hiring Indigenous workers and sharing how he arrived at success with others, so they can start their businesses.

A helpful pathway Pero took that he encourages others to do as well was through the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin.

After putting together a business plan, the chamber and its First American Capital Corporation was able to provide the funding capital for Pero’s start-up.

The program helps provide minority entrepreneurs with what they need to start successful businesses in Wisconsin.

Pero believes CBD also can impact the world in a good way, as long as it’s organically grown and natural, as his is right here in Wisconsin.

“There’s definitely a stigma,” he said. “But it’s a great holistic solution for many people, it’s therapeutic, can lead to better sleep and to get away from the pharmaceutical aspects.”

Canndigenous is the first Native American-owned CBD company in Wisconsin. It makes oils and other products.

Canndigenous last year produced 10,000 pounds of hemp from 12 acres of farm, which has been manufactured into CBD oils and flours to use topically or for cooking or smoking.

Cannabidiol does not contain enough THC to have psychoactive effects, but can help with calming, experts say.

Earlier this year, Gov. Tony Evers proposed legalizing recreational cannabis that contains much more THC as surrounding states have done.

Pero said he doesn’t know if and when that will come to pass, but believes companies like his are in a good position to expand if recreational cannabis with THC does become legal in Wisconsin.

“Politically, it’s still an uphill battle in Wisconsin,” he said. “But it’s important for local businesses to have entry.”

This Saturday, Pero — with Canndingenous and his partners — will be hosting an open-air CBD market featuring live music, CBD-infused food and drinks, and art. It will be held at the Kroghville Oasis, N5942 County Road O, in Waterloo.

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