See more of the story

Dana Thompson vividly recalls the rough texture and distinctive tinny taste of river rocks she'd find while adventuring Minnesota as a child, encouraged by her mother to experience the world using all of her senses. It was in looking back and relishing nature — from its soothing sounds and even its stony flavors — that Thompson embarked on her newest adventure.

Heti, the Dakota word for home, is a line of new hemp-derived, low-dose THC/CBD cannabis seltzers that feature Indigenous botanicals of North America. With flavors like Marshland Harvest and Meadow Cat Nap, the beverages are as evocative of her outside adventures as they are of our specific place in the world.

Thompson rose to national prominence when Owamni, the restaurant she co-founded in 2021 with chef Sean Sherman, won the prestigious James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in 2022. The restaurant grew out of the Sioux Chef food truck and catering company that significantly raised the bar and awareness of Indigenous cuisine. The restaurant and accompanying nonprofit NATIFS (North American Traditional Indigenous Food System) worked to decolonize menus and empower Native people.

She parted ways with the company in 2023, but Heti takes some of the work done inside Owamni, particularly with its groundbreaking nonalcoholic drink program, a step further. The drinks also allow Thompson to continue to advocate and support her Native community; a percentage of the revenue will be used to help develop sustainable housing for Indigenous and marginalized communities.

We asked Thompson about her hopes, plans and what exactly a rock tastes like. The interview, conducted by email, has been edited for length.

Dana Thompson continues her advocacy for Native people and ingredients with her new post-Owamni project, the THC beverage line Heti.
Dana Thompson continues her advocacy for Native people and ingredients with her new post-Owamni project, the THC beverage line Heti.

Shelly Mosman, Provided

Q: Owamni was known for its nonalcoholic beverages, and this seems like a natural evolution. What was the genesis of Heti?

A: I have been thinking about doing something like this for a long time. My passion for the consumer packaged goods industry started years ago when I worked for an organic and natural foods marketing company. Because of my music background, I was doing sustainability initiatives for national artists like Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews. Through that, I learned a lot about how powerful packaged goods can be in so many ways. I love looking at packaging as a vehicle for education, reading their stories, tasting new things ... and then emotionally connecting to foods or drinks. I could talk about this for hours.

At Owamni, I was passionate about the focus on NA beverages, so it was super cool to put that idea into the hands of some of the amazing, creative staff. They did an incredible job.

With Heti, playing with flavors through the lens of my Native grandfather, Clem Felix, has been a delight for me. He and my mother were both big hikers, and so tasting plants along the way was infused in me.

Q: The flavors are so evocative; how were they developed?

A: I started playing with the flavors I had been dreaming of, and then, like everything in my life now, it really started in a spreadsheet. I would taste everything I could in the marketplace, taking notes, thinking, "What would I want to have in the marketplace?"

I work a lot, and I have for years. After staring at my computer for hours a day, I want to get outside. So, I created these to transport one to a place in nature. My creative process was imagining what I could pick along the river path. If I sat at the edge of the forest, what could I smell, taste, see and feel? I created Marshland Harvest because I love Wisconsin cranberries, and I thought of seeing a bog, with sumac behind it. I added black currant because I absolutely love that flavor in this context. Meadow Cat Nap had me lying in a field watching the clouds float across the sky. Wild mint, lemon balm and dandelion, I imagine running my hands through the plants and being able to smell them. It's also a lightly carbonated, champagne-colored beverage, so like all of these I wanted to create something that could take the place of wine in someone's life. In this case, sparkling wine.

My mother often had me taste things in the wild — she thought eating dirt was no big deal. That was her farmgirl upbringing showing. And I have always loved rocks, I would collect rocks all the time as a child. We would lay them out and taste the different ones and talk about it. I remember as a 6-year-old, the gray rocks with a rough texture that I thought were the coolest flavor, sort of mineral, slightly salty.

Q: The website mentions high-bush cranberries, and that is such a powerful childhood memory of mine, picking and making jelly with my mom and grandma. Are the ingredients locally sourced?

A: What a beautiful memory. I would love to create a flavor using high-bush cranberries, the challenge is that I have struggled to source them in the quantity I would need, especially locally. They are one of my favorite flavors from northern Minnesota. I have also been trying to find someone to create a white-cedar bitters for me. I will use as much as I can find locally, and I will devote resources to developing and sourcing businesses locally and throughout tribal communities.

Q: How does Heti help reclaim sovereignty? This feels like another step toward destigmatizing and demystifying natural ingredients.

A: That is absolutely a part of the impetus. I remember my mother telling me that hemp had so many uses but was deemed a serious Class 1 drug. I couldn't stop thinking about how dumb that was. You can't grow an indigenous plant? Ridiculous. She and I would marvel at that. I can think of so many ways to use this beautiful plant. The oppression through this colonial system has disproportionately affected Native and Black community members, and so much damage has been done through the prison system. I hope that as this industry grows, we can develop jobs for people coming out of the prison system. I believe it would be therapeutic to have them working with these plants. It's a vibrational medicine, too.

Q: Talk about the social impacts that Heti's success will afford.

A: I hope to work with the Santee Sioux tribe in Nebraska, where my Native grandfather was born, to improve the housing on their reservation. The Lower Sioux Indian Community, which my family has links to, has been making hempcrete, which is a natural alternative to conventional construction-built homes. It will divert landfill, plus it's an extraordinarily energy-efficient material. This will be a multi-sector project, so I am making inroads with other organizations that I hope will partner with me. And I have yet to see if Heti will be a success. The more reach we have, the more good we can do. I have some big dreams for making an impact and righting some of these wrongs.

Where to buy

Released just this month, Heti is available in four flavors: Marshland Harvest, Meadow Cat Nap, River Path and Woodland Edge. It's working its way into liquor stores, bars and restaurants, NA stores such as the Hemp House and Marigold and grocery stores. Single cans are $6.99; find more information or order a four-pack ($27) at hetiproducts.