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Entrepreneur Dana Thompson (Wahpeton-Sisseton, Mdewakanton Dakota), co-founder of the award-winning Owamni restaurant in Minneapolis, has launched a new social impact company and adult beverage brand called “Heti.” 

Thompson wants Heti, which means “home” in the Dakota language, to serve as an umbrella covering both products and social projects. The idea is that products like Heti’s THC seltzers can support infrastructure improvements or new housing on tribal land, for example. 

The seltzers launched in early April through the company’s website, as well as in stores across Thompson’s home state of Minnesota. Each contains locally sourced ingredients like sumac and rosehip, as well as 3 mg of THC and 5 mg of CBD. The drinks serve as the cornerstone for Thompson’s future plans, she told Tribal Business News. 

“There's a lot of good to do, but it's not something one woman can do by herself,” Thompson said. “Depending on how successful this is, that's going to define how we move forward. I've got a lot of issues in tribal communities I want to solve. Right now it's a vision - we’ll see how it blooms.”

Launching Heti has meant navigating a tangle of state and federal laws and distribution challenges. Hemp-derived cannabis drinks, which contain less than 0.3% THC per volume, are federally legalized. Even so, individual states impose limits on overall THC content per drink, such as Connecticut's limit of 5 mg. 

Thompson worked on Heti’s development without the kind of federal assistance sometimes afforded a woman-, Native-owned small business, she said. For example, the United States Small Business Administration does not currently provide support for most cannabis-based businesses, including hemp-derived products. 

“I'm bootstrapping it to get this thing off the ground and figure out how successful it's going to be,” Thompson said. “It's been really challenging to figure out distribution, because of the chaos that are laws in the US right now.”

Distribution challenges aside, Thompson has launched Heti into a fast-growing market. The global demand for cannabis-infused drinks was $1.2 billion in 2023, per a report by analyst firm Future Market Insights. That figure is expected to grow to $5.8 billion by 2033, the same report states.

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Thompson brings a wealth of experience in the food-and-beverage arena to Heti. She co-founded Minneapolis-based, Indigenous food non-profit North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems with Sioux Chef Sean Sherman in 2017. She also joined Sherman in founding the James Beard Award winning Indigenous restaurant Owamni in 2021. (Thompson departed Owamni in 2023 after the restaurant was absorbed by NATIFS.) 

It was during her work with NATIFS and Owamni that Thompson conceived the idea of a social impact brand, she said. Inspired by hemp legalization in the 2018 Farm Bill, Thompson began considering how to use THC in products going forward. She also researched how the plant could help revitalize the soil where it grew.

That culminated in a desire to use product sales to make social differences, Thompson said. 

“My daughter sent me a newsletter, talking about a tribe’s issues with housing and drinking water,” Thompson said. “As I was thinking about the legalization of this beautiful plant, it all just came together.” 

Thompson worked with Minneapolis-based Big Watt Cold Beverage Company to formulate and manufacture Heti’s drinks. Thompson and beverage formulator Jackson Gese sourced traditional or Indigenous ingredients for each drink. Thompson wanted to avoid processed ingredients like refined sugars, or flavors that didn’t occur naturally in the Americas. 

Instead, they hunted for local sources like a private forest in Washington that provided cedar bitters, as well as maple producers in Wisconsin, Gese said. 

“It presented challenges, but it was also kind of an opportunity at the same time,” Gese said. “It wasn’t another ‘come up with a fun orange soda’ project. We had strict parameters to use Indigenous ingredients.”

Thompson said much of the drinks’ formulation stemmed from conversations with other Indigenous people. Concerns around alcoholism and diabetes in her social circles prompted Thompson to develop something new, she said. 

Rather than alcohol, Heti went for hemp-derived THC and CBD. Rather than refined or processed sugars, Heti sought out ingredients like blueberries and agave to create a social beverage Thompson could share with her friends. 

“I really like having this as a replacement for wine,” Thompson said. “It's something you can enjoy socially and you're not going to act weird around your coworkers or whoever you're around. It's really satisfying.”

In a perfect world, Heti would create a circuit, Thompson said. By supporting social causes around Native agriculture, Heti would cultivate new, Indigenous suppliers for their products. From there, Thompson can really make an impact, driving wealth into the communities that, in turn, would support her company. 

But that all starts with this first product launch, then Thompson will see where she can go from here, she said. 

“I can't know how successful I'm going to be. It's going to depend on the different types of partners that want to hitch our trains together,” Thompson said. “There's so many opportunities with this, and I want to figure out every single way we can make this circular.”

About The Author
Chez Oxendine
Staff Writer
Chez Oxendine (Lumbee-Cheraw) is a staff writer for Tribal Business News. Based in Oklahoma, he focuses on broadband, Indigenous entrepreneurs, and federal policy. His journalism has been featured in Native News Online, Fort Gibson Times, Muskogee Phoenix, Baconian Magazine, and Oklahoma Magazine, among others.
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