Roche (Rocky) Sappier did not initially intend to start a business in 2011. However, after earning a business diploma from the New Brunswick Community College in Woodstock and several months of unsuccessful job searching, he realized that he’d have to create his own job. Now Rocky is building his business, Aboriginal Millennium Health Products, based on the healing properties of honey.
“Native people have a lot of chronic diseases but there is no one who is looking into why they do,” he said. “34% of all Canadian Aboriginals are diabetic. Honey has over 180 minerals, enzymes and nutrients that people need for better health.”
Rocky first discovered the benefits of raw honey back in 2006 when he was working out West in the oil fields. The hours of work were long and the duties were rigorous. To cope with the difficulties of oil patch work, Rocky and his co-workers took a variety of energy drinks, caffeine, salt and pain pills. The positive effects of these products were short-lived and Rocky’s health began to deteriorate within the first month.
On the oil rig he met a Metis elder from Saskatchewan, Doug Miller. Doug was 72 or 73 years of age but looked like a man of 40. As their friendship grew, they discussed matters of family, spirituality and health. When Doug learned of Rocky’s health issues, he gave him some capsules filled with raw honey to take 3 times/day. Within weeks, Rocky’s strength and stamina improved and he had energy to spare.
When Rocky returned to New Brunswick he wanted to continue taking raw honey so he went to a local apiary. The beekeeper/apiarist eventually became his partner and with the help of his partner, family, and Aboriginal medicinal knowledge, he developed a line of honey-based products which included health & wellness beverages, natural products, and products with medical applications.
“People will always need help and it is up to us to figure out how to give it. My products are made to heal people,” Rocky said.
Rocky is dedicated to his new venture because he wants to create products that will help people be healthier and live longer. For Rocky, honey is a medicine not just a sweetener.
“It’s a journey into uncharted territory and I love it,” he said.
Like many entrepreneurs, Rocky saw his business start to take shape after he tapped into support from a number of sources like the JEDI Aboriginal Development Fund (JADF). Rocky partnered with the Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI) to pay for the incorporation of his business. He also received help from the University of New Brunswick and from Karina LeBlanc, the Executive Director at the Pond-Deshpande Centre. The Pond-Deshpande Centre assists NB entrepreneurs and helps them turn ideas into businesses. Karina has helped Rocky make new business connections and encouraged him to apply for funding.
“Laura O’Blenis, CEO of Stiletto Consulting was also a big and ongoing help,” Rocky said. “She has good contacts, knows her stuff and her heart is in the right place. She has become very invaluable to me, like my right arm.”
Rocky also acknowledges the support he received from the Saint Mary’s Band office.
“Saint Mary’s has developed their system around the needs of the people,” he said. “If anyone at Saint Mary’s has an idea, there is a support system there. They will support you and help you make it happen.”
Rocky thanks his family and everyone else who has helped him along the way.
“There is no such thing as a self-made man,” he said. “Behind him is a family.”
Rocky is currently navigating the processes involved in starting a business such as funding pitches, continued research, working with production facilities, and looking for business partners in the hopes of getting his first product on store shelves by late summer or early fall 2014.
Rocky’s advice to other Aboriginal entrepreneurs is that you have to be willing to keep trying when the going gets tough.
“No matter what, keep going and let your personal vision and ideal guide you to the end,” said Rocky. “Don’t let anything deter you. And above all, believe in yourself, your product, and what you are doing. If you don’t have persistence, you don’t have anything going for you. Find like-minded people to help you succeed. You can be successful in spite of the odds against you.”