16 Jan Food Insecurity in Remote Indigenous Communities
I identify as a white settler. I was educated in the Canadian schooling system. I must acknowledge that my background, education, and other aspects of my positionality have informed biases that have shaped my understanding of settler colonialism. I recognize that my positionality has influenced my understanding of this article’s subject matter.
The Queen’s Native Student Association (QNSA) is a Queen’s club made up of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students that seeks to encourage engagement with Indigenous culture and issues amongst the Queen’s community. I had the opportunity to sit down with Reily Morrison, QNSA’s Northern Food Director, to discuss their recent winter drive initiative and the larger food insecurity issue. Reily, a fourth-year Global Development student, became involved with QNSA because she wanted to put herself in a position to learn. She is the only white settler on the QNSA exec and emphasizes that she does not speak on behalf of QNSA or Indigenous Peoples.
This November, Reily helped organize QNSA’s annual winter drive initiative, which raises money to purchase clothes, food, and personal hygiene products for their sponsored family in Taloyoak, Nunavut. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s campaign was social media-based, with QNSA reaching out to other clubs, groups, and individuals for donations. The drive was very successful, raising over $1000, which helped send a few packages of supplies to the family. Reily emphasizes that she wishes they could do more, but with the cost of transportation in Nunavut so high, it cost $600 in shipping alone to send supplies from Calgary to Taloyoak.
This high cost of transportation speaks to a larger issue faced by remote Indigenous communities: food insecurity. Reily is extremely passionate about this issue and wants to pursue research in the field in the future. She says that food insecurity is essentially the lack of food security, which is met when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, adequate, and nutritious food. Food security is connected to food sovereignty, which has an added political dimension. Food sovereignty is about ensuring access to culturally appropriate food. For Indigenous Peoples on Turtle Island, food sovereignty can mean access to traditional hunting grounds and other traditional food sources.
Remote Indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by food insecurity. In Nunavut, Indigenous communities experience food insecurity rates eight times higher than the average Canadian household. This statistic is generally attributed to low incomes and high food costs, affected by difficulties transporting food to remote areas. Still, it is essential to consider how settler colonial systems have exacerbated the problem.
With the introduction of settler colonial systems of governance, many Indigenous communities on Turtle Island have experienced a loss of traditional knowledge, historically relied upon for food supply. Also, the settler colonial system has stripped Indigenous Peoples of subsistence means of agriculture and land. Many communities have experienced reduced access to traditional hunting grounds, which has been exacerbated in the north by climate change. On top of this, Indigenous communities face the continued effects of intergenerational trauma and are provided with woefully inadequate services by the Canadian government. All of these factors have led to higher food insecurity rates amongst remote Indigenous communities.
While lack of food is undoubtedly an issue in and of itself, food insecurity can lead to a slew of other issues within these communities. Not only does a lack of nutritious food place individuals at a higher risk for disease, but it can also lead to poor mental health. On a larger scale, food insecurity can have a notable impact on the communities. It can pose an obstacle for economic development as when individuals do not have access to affordable food, they cannot invest in their community in the same way as they otherwise would. Perhaps most importantly, though, food insecurity is a threat to Indigenous communities’ cultural integrity. When food insecurity affects Indigenous communities, it is a threat to their survival and, therefore, a threat to maintaining their cultural traditions.
Drives that provide materials for individuals living in remote communities can have an important impact, but Reily maintains that, for a long-term solution to the problem of food insecurity, there needs to be Indigenous-led structural change. Western agriculture systems have typically been about taking from the land, with no effort to replenish resources. This has led food insecurity to become a global issue of concern that, with the continued loss of topsoil due to climate change, will soon affect everyone. By contrast, traditional Indigenous knowledge focuses on regenerating the earth and recycling nutrients. It is the potential for balance offered by Indigenous traditions that may create the structural change that will help Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities alike attain and maintain food security in future.
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