Congress 2021 blog edition
Northern food insecurity is a highly complex issue. For northern communities, high degrees of isolation and poor infrastructure collide with climate change and the legacy of colonialism to challenge the sustainability of northerner’s homes and traditions.
The major takeaway from today’s discussion on this issue is that we must reframe how we think about addressing it; we must set targets to completely eradicate the problem, and work to meet them. The end goal should be to have thriving, sustainable northern communities that are inherently food secure.
Imagine the risk hunters take driving ATVs on the river system to get to remote hunting sites while freezing and thawing cycles are increasingly unpredictable. A resident of Peawanuck, an Indigenous Cree Community in Northern Ontario, described his experience in a video played during the session. He said, “the weather is playing games with us; it’s colder than it's supposed to be, hotter than it should be...so we have to look farther and farther away.” He explained grocery store prices for food are so high that “it’s too expensive to make it up here without hunting and fishing.”
Residents are the experts on what their communities need to be secure and sovereign, so collaborative efforts involving government, advocates and academics must put residents of northern communities at their centre.
Wayne Walsh, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC), explained that the important thing today is for governments to “get out of the way” and have people in northern communities lead. Today, government departments and agencies are beginning to understand their support role, and they are creating programs focused around the “lived realities of the north.”
The Harvesters Support Grant was established in 2019. It was developed in collaboration with Indigenous partners and currently supports 116 isolated communities. By design, the grant prioritises local control and provides community recipients with as much flexibility as possible. What the community identifies as a need, be that fish nets, seeds, boats, agricultural land capacity, community hunting supports or transportation, the Harvest Support Grant will aim to provide it.
Dr. Shirley Thompson on country food programming in the Manitoban context
“79% of northern Manitoba fly-in communities are food insecure,” said Dr. Shirley Thompson, University of Manitoba. Evidence shows a combined approach of establishing country food programs and building infrastructure could be the lasting solution to eliminate food security in up to 90% of those communities.
The University of Manitoba is piloting a country food education program called Kitigays to grow agricultural and country food capacity among youth from northern communities. The highly popular program offers a blend of distance and hands-on learning with farming, fishing and hunting internships with Metis and First Nation communities, and Indigenous businesses and organizations.
Country food selling and sharing networks in the north
Selling and sharing country food is a part of mixed northern economies. Statistics shared by Dr. David Natcher, University of Saskatchewan, show families sell country food like caribou, marine mammals and fish for subsistence and to earn enough money to cover essential costs, and also share their catchings to an average of six other families. This illustrates the existing interdependent networks among northerners and raises the question of how country food selling and sharing networks can be harnessed as part of the permanent solution to food insecurity.