Rob Pero was in his 30s before he really began to reconnect with his indigenous roots.
After his father, who was full-blooded Native American, died when he was younger, his mother raised him in a “very white world.” A “military brat,” Pero attended eight schools before high school, when his family settled near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Pero tried college and then joined the Navy, before returning to school to get a degree in engineering. In 2006 but switched to a sales career to “reinvent” himself. In 2010, he did it again, going back to school to study graphic design and opening a firm called Perodigm.
Around that time, Pero joined the American Indian Chamber of Commerce in Wisconsin, in part to reconnect with his culture and traditions. With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, Pero got into the cannabis business, founding the Canndigenous CBD brand in 2020.
“We wanted to create something that was more lifestyle based, that could be an inspiration to Native communities, and really showcase a transparent roadmap to being in this industry,” he says.
In 2022, he founded the Indigenous Cannabis Industry Association, a national organization aimed at being a conduit for all 574 tribes nationally, including those in the cannabis space and those looking to get in. Pero sees cannabis as a way to bridge the gaps between tribes, mentor tribal businesses and help build wealth for indigenous people across the continent.
The ICIA hosted its first national policy summit in November in Washington, D.C. and its second policy summit in February in Wisconsin.
“This is a huge opportunity to build wealth and wellness and better health for our indigenous communities,” he says. “And we need to capitalize on it.”