Birch Bark Coffee founder wins award

Birch Bark Coffee Co. founder Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow.

BIRCH ISLAND – The founder of the innovative First Nations social enterprise Birch Bark Coffee Company has been recognized nationally for his work in raising funds to provide First Nation communities in Canada with access to clean water.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow of Birch Island, and founder of Birch Bark Coffee, received a Canada Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CANIE) award during a digital ceremony held May 28, celebrating winners from Ontario.

CANIE awards are presented by the Innovators and Entrepreneurs Foundation in recognition of excellence in Canadian innovation and entrepreneurship. He was the winner of the Indigenous Entrepreneur Award for Ontario, celebrating excellence in innovation and entrepreneurship. The Foundation is a national charity dedicated to educate and promote innovation and entrepreneurship among aspiring and well-established business owners in marginalized communities.

Mr. Marsolais-Nahwegahbow launched Birch Bark Coffee Company in 2018. “This award is not only about Birch Bark Coffee,” he said in a statement. “It is all about all the people who care about change and have joined our journey.” 

The Birch Bark Coffee website explains the Ottawa-based company sources and blends organic, certified fair trade coffee and proceeds from the sale of every bag go toward the purchase of water purification systems for Indigenous homes across Canada. Mr. Marsolais-Nahwegahbow’s goal is to install a water purification system in every Indigenous home that currently does not have access to clean water, including those in more remote regions whose communities have been on long-term boil advisories.

Indigenous people in Canada continue to live in third world conditions and Mr. Marsolais-Nahwegahbow’s goal is to educate the world that Birch Bark Coffee Company can and will make a difference one coffee bag at a time. He was inspired by his community, birch trees and the connection the trees had to his Indigenous heritage. Birch trees have been relied upon for many centuries by First Nations people, European settlers and voyageurs for transporting food, medicine, paper, canoes and crafts.

The trees remain an iconic resource today, still providing medicines, jewellery and crafts and throughout Canadian history birch trees have increased the quality of life in so many ways, for so many people. And, ironically, the quintessential coffee bean shares similar traditional legends.

Birch Bark Coffee Company believes access to clean drinking water is a fundamental human right and no one should be without clean drinking water, the company website explains. “We will lead by example and be a leader as a First Nations innovative social enterprise with ‘Coffee Making a Difference.’

The quality of the coffee itself is important. “My wife and I put a lot of work into ensuring the coffee roasts are all silky-smooth,” Mr. Marsolais-Nahwegahbow told The Manitoulin Expositor in a May 2018 interview. “Birch Bark Coffee uses only high-end beans and is certified organic and fair trade, which means we are supporters and believers in sustainability and healthy choices.”

The lineup of Birch Bark Coffee Co. roasts.

Purchasers can expect freshly roasted coffee beans within days of roasting (depending on where you’re located). “Let’s face it,” he said. “Coffee off the shelf or coffee beans in a hopper are not always as fresh as they appear. When you order from Birch Bark Coffee Company you know your coffee was freshly roasted.”

Purchases can be made at The company is encouraging customers to share on social media using the hashtag #grounds4change.

Mr. Marsolais-Nahwegahow is one of 40 recipients of CANIE Awards, which are given out according to regions across the country.