Feature: Makwa Wise

Angela Romano
May 12, 2020

Sometimes things happen suddenly and unexpectedly. And the story of how Makwa Wise came to be an advertiser on Sault Business Matters is an example of this. 

You see, I often try to support various local businesses as much as possible. On this particular occasion, I had placed an order of mainly produce from a local farm when I noticed that honey was on the list.  I needed some so I added it to my order.

When the order was delivered, I noticed the label for Makwa Honey with a local address and the words 100% Anishinabek owned and operated.  It intrigued me having not heard too much about them and the fact that it was Anishinabek owned and operated also piqued my curiosity.  

So, I checked to see if they were on social media and sure enough, I found a Facebook page for them.  I sent a message basically saying that I hadn’t heard much about them and that perhaps Sault Business Matters could help promote their business and product.   I had tasted the honey by then and it was really, really good. 

A few hours later on the same day, I received a message asking me to send a text and we could “work something out.”  It was honestly the quickest ad sale ever.  

It turns out Dr. Roger Boyer II, the owner of the company, is pretty excited to get more people aware of the good work he is doing not just with Makwa Honey but in his quest to change the way Indigenous and non-indigenous people can partner together in ways that benefit each other.

You see Makwa Wise is much more than just Makwa Honey. There are actually seven companies that fall under the Makwa Wise umbrella started by the high energy, forward thinking, bright, educated chief executive officer and founder Roger Boyer II, along with his wife and chief clinical officer Stephanie Boyer.

The seven companies consist of Makwa Wise, Makwa Sense, Makwa Vigor, Makwa Coffee & Meadery, Makwa Executive Mentoring, Makwa Responsibility, and the aforementioned Makwa Honey. 

Given the format of these feature stories, I may have to do some follow up articles as work progresses with these other branches. 

At any rate, after having met (using safe social distancing) with Roger and his wife, I can say that he has a lot of important and inspirational things to say. 

It was definitely an unconventional location for a meeting at the old jail on McNabb Street. I was led to what has been transformed to a cross fit style gym that is used by some of their clients in their health care and coaching work.   It was here that I learned a bit more about what Makwa Wise is all about and in particular  about Makwa Honey by the very energetic and passionate Roger. 

The name of the company uses Makwa which means bear in Ojibway and Roger of the Mississauga First Nation feels strongly connected to the Bear clan and hence it is fitting that the very eye catching logo features the bear claw.  Research shows that the Bear Clan people are believed to be healers and the bear meaning is related to protection and commitment similar to the protection and commitment that bear mothers give to their young. 

Roger is quick to explain that all of his companies in some way serve to provide provision and protection to people as key goals.  For the past seventeen years, Roger has been guided by mainstream and Indigenous elders to better understand the models of health care and what will work at home.  He has worked hard and became a health director and then a director of comprehensive primary care to currently the CEO of Makwa Wise:  Wellness Innovations Solutions Emerge.  

Roger is on the Ontario Health Association Board,  is the first Indigenous Fellow candidate on the Canadian College of Health leaders and is also currently a member of the Sault Area Hospital board of directors and he has a PhD in Intercultural Studies with a focus on Cross Cultural Leadership and Cultural Anthropology.

He is also most certainly an inspirational guy having lost 200 pounds using hard work and dedication!

If any readers are looking to get motivated, check out his newly launched series of videos on You Tube under Makwa Wise. He is certainly an example of true transformation.  It is refreshing to be one of the first local websites to really try and showcase an Indigenous success story.    

When asked about how he became interested in bees and honey, Roger revealed that initially he found it helpful with his mental health and he found it very therapeutic.  He had heard that beekeeping is a great way to practice mindfulness and be with nature and he just really loved to watch the bees for its therapeutic value. 

So, he reached out to a local bee keeping expert to get some help getting started and started with four hives in 2015.  This local expert was wanting to retire so to speak and was looking for someone to take over her extensive collection of hives which was intimidating at first but after time and experience, he got more confident and expanded the number of hives despite the challenges that arose such as early on when all but one bee died. 

With perseverance he was slowly able to add more hives and in 2016, he finally got honey!  He did what he could do and sold his honey off the back of his truck and by 2017, he had expanded to twenty four hives.  At this time, he also was able to get his honey sold on consignment at Wilson’s Market next to Lake Lauzon Resort in Algoma Mills and from there, sales took off.  

He realized in 2018 that he had to decide whether or not to expand to really give this the attention it needed to make it a more successful venture and with that the apiary also known as a bee yard was expanded to 36 hives.

Roger explained that in a good year, you can expect to extract about 80-100 pounds of honey and his son Noeh has been a huge help in this business. 

For the Algoma area, Sunnynook Farm helps to distribute his product and they actually now host thirty of his hives and other places where you can purchase Makwa honey include Wilson’s Market and by far his biggest sales partner is the Country Way store in downtown Sault Ste. Marie, which averages about 46 jars sold per month.

One of Roger’s strong beliefs is that he wants to re-establish the relationship between Indigenous people and non-indigenous people and to move forward with reconciliation, a key recommendation by the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada). 

He would love to see more people recognize each other as equitable partners and his message is that we can and should live in harmony together.  It makes good entrepreneurial sense to work with non-indigenous partners to benefit each other.  He is also adamant in saying that indigenous people can and should do more to be better partners and should not expect handouts. 

It is to everyone’s benefit to partner with each other and not stick to the same way of doing things.  Friendship, reciprocity, respect and the belief that we can work together better is what Roger is all about. 

The missing link has been the lack of working together in many regards.  Recognizing this, Roger goes out of his way to include nonindigenous partners in his operation working with Innisfil Creek for the fabrication end of things for Makwa honey, using Sault Woodworks for the construction of his carefully selected cedar hive boxes because cedar has anti-fungal and better water absorption qualities which is helpful in the bees survival rate. 

Roger has clear goals in mind and hopes to expand to 75 hives in the immediate future with a two year goal to expand to 150 hives which would produce around 15,000 pounds of honey. 

A new product he has just launched are honey “stix” which are a convenient way to carry his delicious product and have great potential for other uses such as being a quick carb load for long distance runners so he is hoping to sell a supply to local running group Sault Stryders. He also would like to see the stix used in hospital settings such as the renal dialysis and cancer units as a substitute for less healthy sugars such as orange juice.  The sticks also have the potential to be blended with berries, ginger, lemongrass, cinnamon, and grapefruit. 

The honey “stix” are now available at the Country Way in Sault Ste. Marie along with the honey and the stix retail for .35 cents each or 4 for $1.00.   

Roger is also in talks with a couple of local restaurants to have them make the switch to honey as a sweetener instead of sugar but also to offer his honey stix for tea and coffee as a sweetener option.  He also sees a huge potential for people to help save the bee population and would love to see bee yards and the notion of the bee brigade is close to his heart. 

Why not teach people to operate backyard bee clubs or add them to community gardens or downtown buildings have the potential to help pollinate on their rooftops? He is willing to offer guidance so more people could help to save the bee population but also be making honey and putting more honey on shelves.  

I spoke with Shonna Saari, owner of the Country Way and asked her why the Makwa honey does so well at her location and she tells Sault Business Matters that her customers love it and the taste is very unique.  In her words, ‘if you close your eyes when you sample the honey, you can taste the fields where the bees collect and create this golden goodness from.”   

She calls it local liquid gold and having tasted it myself, I agree!  As Shonna said and I know Roger would agree, “we are stronger together now more than ever.”  

There has even been some discussion about Roger participating in hosting a beekeeping workshop at the Country Way and he would love to develop an urban beekeeping association.

Roger and Team Makwa have also done a lot of philanthropic work with much of it in support of combating childhood obesity but perhaps that we can save for a follow up story. 

In the meantime, you can visit www.makwawise.com to learn more about this Indigenous success story or for updates on the honey, follow Makwa Honey on Facebook. 

Roger is also very open to anyone wishing to partner with him on other ventures such as producing local mead for example so if anyone is interested, reach out to him at beready@makwawise.care.

Selling jars of Makwa honey at an outdoor stand.

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