Indigenous Alberta Spotlight: Kikawinaw – Tea with a Twist

This summer (2022) I got to meet Carrie and Kelly Armstrong, the Indigenous founders of an Alberta business called Kikawinaw (pronounced kick•ah•win•ow).

Kikawinaw is home-brewed tea using Carrie and Kelly’s grandmother’s tea recipe, kissed with Alberta Righand Distillery gin and bubbles, created to honour and replenish.

Kikawinaw is made using a blend of plants, herbs and wild berries with wild rose gin, created after the sisters manned a cold tea booth at a Taste of Edmonton back in 2017. Their booth neighbour was Righand Distillery, who joked the two companies should merge their tea and gin. 

Kikawinaw - Indigenous Alberta Business - Carrie and Kelly Armstrong - Tea and Righand Distillery Gin - Explore Alberta
Kikawinaw uses a delicate tea blend of plants, herbs and wild berries, with Wildrose Gin and refreshing bubbles.

It took a little while to get going but the partnership was formalized in 2020, just before the pandemic. They started with just a 100L tank, which at the time Carrie recalls seemed like a lot.  

Today, Righand is processing 900L of tea every few weeks. That translates to roughly 2,400 cans of Kikawinaw gin + tea. This partnership marked the first pasteurized product for Righand.

Kikawinaw - Indigenous Alberta Business - Carrie and Kelly Armstrong - Tea and Righand Distillery Gin - Explore Alberta
The 100L tank they used for Kikawinaw tea back in 2020.
Kikawinaw - Indigenous Alberta Business - Carrie and Kelly Armstrong - Tea and Righand Distillery Gin - Explore Alberta
The 900L tank they use for Kikawinaw tea in 2022.

Carrie and Kelly were born in the Alberta Foothills in Hinton, located just west of Edmonton, and lived next door to their grandmother, who taught them all about plants. 

“She loved picking berries, talking about plants, and using plants,” they told me, when I met them at Righand Distillery in Nisku in June to learn about their business for some work with Travel Alberta. “She turned the plants into teas.”

To these Metis women, Kikawinaw is a way to reclaim their culture.

“Our mother was a residential school survivor. Culture wasn’t something we were taught,” Carrie says. “You didn’t admit you were Indigenous. Now (our business, Kikawinaw) is about reclaiming culture and reclaiming that love of plants that our grandmother had.” 

Kikawinaw - Indigenous Alberta Business - Carrie and Kelly Armstrong - Tea and Righand Distillery Gin - Explore Alberta
Kikawinaw tea is fruity, tart, and sparkly.
Kikawinaw - Indigenous Alberta Business - Carrie and Kelly Armstrong - Tea and Righand Distillery Gin - Explore Alberta
Carrie and Kelly Armstrong are the co-founders of Kikawinaw.

The sisters say that fermented fruit has been used in Indigenous ceremony for thousands of years. Kikawinaw loosely translates to ‘Mother Nature’—something we could all become more connected with, Carrie says.

Through Kikawinaw, the Armstrong sisters say they are taking control of the story, creating positive Indigenous representation in this space.

They say Kikawinaw is “reconciliation in action.”

Kikawinaw - Indigenous Alberta Business - Carrie and Kelly Armstrong - Tea and Righand Distillery Gin - Explore Alberta
Canning Kikawinaw at Righand Distillery.
Kikawinaw - Indigenous Alberta Business - Carrie and Kelly Armstrong - Tea and Righand Distillery Gin - Explore Alberta
Hand labelling Kikawinaw at Righand Distillery.

Kikawinaw is a pink, bubbly and fizzy, berry-infused tart tea with award-winning Righand Distillery wild rose gin.

In fact, in its short-time, Kikawinaw is also an award winner—most recently taking a spot in the ready-to-drink Hard Teas category for Judge’s Selection in the 2021 Alberta Beverage Awards

Kikawinaw - Indigenous Alberta Business - Carrie and Kelly Armstrong - Tea and Righand Distillery Gin - Explore Alberta
Kikawinaw is an Indigenous Alberta business you should support!

This Fall 2022, Righand Distillery is moving to a bigger location near the Edmonton International Airport, and opening an interpretive centre on site designed and executed by Carrie via her other business: Mother Earth Essentials, a popular bath and beauty line that uses wild edible and medicinal plants that can be collected on the prairies. Mother Earth Essentials products will also be featured at the new centre, alongside Kikawinaw.

Righand President Geoff Stewart tells me that the interpretive centre will help people better connect to where their food and drink comes from, and will include small plot farming and a community garden. The centre will also provide after school programming to teach kids how to grow their own food, include walking paths that show old agriculture practices compared to modern agriculture practices, along with fields of undisturbed traditional plants. 

The interpretive centre will also prominently feature a display that addresses the negative effects of alcohol and colonization.

“We know alcoholism is a problem in our industry. Alcohol is fun but it has a dark side. As a business owner, I feel morally responsible to address this and find a path for everyone to build a healthy relationship with alcohol,” Geoff says. “I believe in reconciliation and have a part to play in it.” Partnerships with Indigenous business owners like Carrie and Kelly is part of that work. They will be planning and designing all of the content for the Indigenous Interpretive Centre in consultation with their Elders and community members. 

Kikawinaw - Indigenous Alberta Business - Carrie and Kelly Armstrong - Tea and Righand Distillery Gin - Explore Alberta
A perfect partnership - Kikawinaw + Righand Dillstery.
Kikawinaw - Indigenous Alberta Business - Carrie and Kelly Armstrong - Tea and Righand Distillery Gin - Explore Alberta
Kikawinaw, anyone!?

It was an absolute pleasure to meet Kikawinaw’s Carrie and Kelly Armstrong, and to speak with Righand’s Geoff Stewart. Our interview was originally just for a social media feature via Travel Alberta’s accounts, but I thought their story was so important I wanted to share it via blog too. 

Followers of mine will know that one of my acts of reconciliation is amplifying Indigenous entrepreneurs and voices, as well as spending money to support Indigenous artists, makers, and business owners—like Carrie and Kelly Armstrong. 

I love that we’re seeing more stories of Indigenous communities reclaiming culture and space. 

And I love that connection Kikawinaw has with Carrie and Kelly’s childhood, grandmother, and heritage. That’s something you can feel with every sip of their tea.

Carrie and Kelly say they know that through Kikawinaw, their grandmother would be honoured. 

Kikawinaw - Indigenous Alberta Business - Carrie and Kelly Armstrong - Tea and Righand Distillery Gin - Explore Alberta
Kikawinaw is inspired by and honours Carrie and Kelly's grandmother, who used to brew them tea.

Kikawinaw is available at a few liquor stores across Alberta and online at Liquor Connect.

You can also ask your local liquor store to carry it—to increase demand for the product, or you can order direct through Righand Distillery too. 

Thank you Carrie and Kelly for sharing Kikawinaw with me. I also got to taste test the tea and it was so good—so refreshing (best served cold!)

Indigenous Alberta Spotlight is a shout-out series I write showcasing—you guessed it—Indigenous businesses in Alberta. Amplifying Indigenous voices and supporting Indigenous-owned businesses is one of my ongoing acts of reconciliation. Alongside my Small Business Spotlight series, and in general, I prioritize Indigenous, Black, People of Colour and / or women-owned businesses (as statistically these business owners face the most systemic challenges to getting started and / or finding success). You’re welcome to suggest an Indigenous business based in Alberta for me to spotlight, though I offer no guarantees as to whether a business is spotlighted. 

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