A University of British Columbia researcher was here Friday to give a presentation on indigenous food sovereignty.
Held at the Weechi-it-te-win Family Services offices at the Nanicost grounds, the talk was a follow-up to research Dr. Michelle Daigle, originally from Constance Lake First Nation, conducted in this area in the fall of 2013 and the winter of 2014.
Her research had consisted of interviews and attending community gatherings, and was done while Dr. Daigle was a Ph.D. student examining indigenous food practices, resource extraction, and water governance.
She explained indigenous food sovereignty refers to indigenous communities protecting and reclaiming their food harvesting grounds, such as traditional hunting/trapping grounds, fishing waters, or plant harvesting grounds usually lost due to colonization.
During her presentation, Dr. Daigle gave an overview of some of her work and findings, but could not offer many specific conclusions as the research is ongoing.
The talk was more of a chance to get some feedback from community members who had been involved.
“I interviewed close to 40 people and some people more than once,” she told the group.
“People talked a lot about colonization, and the impact of different laws and policies from the Indian Act,” she recalled.
Of those interviewed, Dr. Daigle said some spoke about how being forced to attend residential school took them away from their families during important harvesting times and how they were unable to be on the land.
Others said not going to residential school allowed them to learn the importance of traditional food and land from their parents and grandparents.
Dr. Daigle said the concept of borders and other “colonial jurisdictions” also came up a lot in her research.
“People my mom’s age will remember their grandparents talking about being forced onto reserves and the hardening of these boundaries,” she noted, adding it was not their traditional understanding of boundaries.
International borders also can cause problems for indigenous food sovereignty, said Dr. Daigle, referring to a couple from Lac La Croix who noted the Canada/U.S. border provides a challenge for accessing their traditional fishing grounds.
Community members sometimes accidentally will cross that “imaginary line down the middle of the lake” to get to the traditional fishing grounds that have been used for generations, causing issues with agents on both sides of the border.
Other topics and problems concerning food sovereignty mentioned by Dr. Daigle included conservation efforts, cottagers moving onto traditional Anishinaabe grounds, and resource extraction.
But there is a revitalization of food sovereignty in the area, and the Seven Generations Education Institute’s “Fall Harvest” was something that really stood out to Dr. Daigle.
“People spoke to me about how small it was when it began and how it has grown,” noted Daigle, who was able to attend the annual event in 2013.
Dr. Daigle spoke about how she had learned that before colonization, the area was used by Anishinaabe people as they gathered to prepare and share food before the winter.
It then became the site of the residential school and decades later is where the fall harvest is being revitalized.
“It really made me think about the layers of history that exist in this particular place and how we can talk about those layers of history in many places,” Dr. Daigle remarked.
“We can use this to think about what has been there for generations in terms of Anishinaabe people upholding their responsibilities, but also how those have been impacted through colonization,” she added.
“People are still reclaiming those places today.”
Suggestions Dr. Daigle took from the discussion included looking at the disconnect with youth, the importance of language and stories to traditional food, and making traditional food knowledge more accessible-perhaps through a traditional food cookbook.
She now is starting to work with some communities in her home territory of Treaty #9.
But she stressed the importance of the Treaty #3 communities here for her ongoing research into indigenous food practices and food sovereignty.