NWAC envisions Indigenous communities with access to high-quality, affordable, nutritious and safe food, and to cultural teachings and knowledge on how to prepare traditional foods. Indigenous people have the right to lead healthy and balanced lifestyles while maintaining their relationship with the environment and the land.
“I feel greatly empowered being able to select/forage for food. My desire is to pass this knowledge on to others. Knowing where this comes from and the efforts made to harvest teaches us appreciation for the community and its gifts.”
– Anonymous Survey Respondent (2018). An online survey was distributed to help raise awareness of how food insecurity affects Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people, and how the national food policy should reflect these findings.
In January 2019, the Canadian Government released its new national food guide.1 Leading up to its release, the government consulted the public, industry experts and non-profit organizations. Agriculture and Agri-foods Canada reached out to the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) for feedback on how the food policy should reflect the needs of Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people. This led to NWAC working with the federal department on a national engagement project to have Indigenous voices heard.
Steps in the report included discussions with NWAC’s Board of Directors, engagement sessions with grassroots Indigenous women, the use of social media as a tool to raise awareness and encourage engagement, and online surveys. This process allowed NWAC to develop a report with recommendations that address environmental sustainability, access to the land, the need for healthy and affordable food, transferring knowledge of traditional Indigenous foods and improving health outcomes.
The resulting food guide has been released in multiple Indigenous languages and includes more financially and geographically accessible food recommendations. The government has said that they are working on a more “distinctions-based” guide that takes into account traditional Indigenous foods and ways of life, but there is no clear time-line on this promise.
For Indigenous cultures, food is an integral part of their traditions. Their relationship to food is holistic and sustainable, based on mutual respect for the animals they hunt, and the fruits and vegetables they harvest. Indigenous women play an important role in transmitting cultural teachings and knowledge to new generations on how to prepare traditional foods. Each community has their own traditional foods relating to their location and means of hunting, foraging and gathering. Through the ongoing effects of colonialism, traditional Indigenous lands have been destroyed, polluted and used as a commodity. This has led to a destruction of habitats and loss of wildlife, making it increasingly difficult for Indigenous communities to traditionally live off the land. An inaccessibility to traditional foods means Indigenous communities must rely on western food, which is not always affordable or accessible.
According to the Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people who participated in the NWAC online surveys, their current access to western food is unreliable and unsustainable. Many communities face a simultaneous lack of accessibility to healthy food options, seasonal shortages due to the effects of climate change, lack of locally sourced fresh food, and more. These barriers have caused communities to have to deal with growing knowledge gaps on plant medicines, violence at food banks and community feasts, and families going hungry. As a key demographic to the national food policy, these issues and concerns must be addressed.
A key list of recommendations was developed with input from NWAC’s Board of Directors, discussions from the grassroots engagement sessions and feedback from the online surveys. The four types of recommendations fell under access to the land; funding for culturally appropriate, nutritious and safe foods; research, business and industry development; and addressing the needs of Indigenous women. Through the implementation of these recommendations, we can work towards communities having sustainable, affordable, healthy and accessible foods year-long.
1. Allow First Nation, Métis and Inuit people to hunt and fish at any time of the year for sustenance, and educating officers enforcing conservation and licensing about Indigenous-specific allowances.
2. Increase funding for programs that provide Indigenous communities with access to traditional foods, and subsidized and affordable food for people who experience conditions of poverty.
3. Modify the national food policy so it reflects the needs and well-being of Indigenous people living on reserve, in rural communities and in cities.