Many Tl’esqox members have smokehouses says Chief Francis Laceese (Image submitted)

Food security, food sovereignty top of mind for First Nations

COVID-19 brings traditional ways back into focus

As strips of deer meat dried in a smokehouse recently constructed behind his home through the help of his family, Chief Francis Laceese of Tl’esqox (Toosey Indian Band) said access to their traditional foods such as deer, moose and salmon is becoming increasingly limited.

He pointed to health statistics showing a rising increase of diabetes, cancer and heart disease which he said can be partially attributed to foreign-to-them processed foods.

“If it’s beef, they can’t afford that because it’s too high in stores so they just end up with processed food,” said Laceese, whose community is located 40 kilometers southwest of Williams Lake.

“Over the last so many years with the fires, floods and now this pandemic it seems like something is always preventing us or affecting our traditional food sources and some of the species are going extinct.”

Wildfires have decimated large swaths of forest and the population of many animal species are being negatively impacted from climate change and habitat loss.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further heightened the need for food security, he said.

Read More: COVID-19: Rogers to provide Food Bank Canada with one million meals

UBC post doctoral researcher with the department of economics, political science and philosophy, Joanne Taylor is leading a two-year research project in the Cariboo and Okanagan exploring how programs, policies and reports are developed and trickle down to agriculturists which have had to adapt due to climate change.

“Hopefully it will end with a white paper that will inform policy makers of climate change adaptation for producers in these two areas,” Taylor said.

Impacting producers worldwide, climate change is having significant socioeconomic, environmental and political ramifications, she said.

As drought, floods and sea levels continue to rise, food security to beginning to be talked about more.

“Food security asks who is getting food; who isn’t food secure and who is food secure,” Taylor said. “Here in Canada for example food security is a big problem and it’s usually experienced by people that are marginalized and oppressed.”

Taylor said that includes First Nations, northerly communities, single-mothers and children.

Read More: B.C. farmers markets restricted to food sales only due to COVID-19

“As soon as there is a little bit of a price increase in food, any kind of changes in the market, anything that is affected by climate change and polices that are made internationally, those are the ones that suffer the most with access to food.”

For the two billion people in the world who are food insecure food sovereignty is another topic also being explored. 

“If you take that word, sovereignty, and apply it to groups of food producers that have been largely marginalized, the food sovereignty movement is all about taking back the freedom to grow your own food, to market you own food, to have decision-making power over those food systems, to have access as a human right to food,” Taylor said.

“Many small scale farmers, fisherman, Indigenous peoples all over the world, women, traditional food producers have formed this movement in opposition to the notion of food security which is controlled by huge governments and said that we have the decision-making power as to how we want to grow the food which could be a small scale.”

Read More: COVID-19: B.C. too dependent on foreign food production workers

Despite the hardships they face, Laceese said his people continue to hunt and fish and practice gathering traditional medicines to treat different ailments.

He said they also continue to fight to keep their glacier-fed waters free from industry for future generations.

“We’re not rich in anyway, but we’re rich to be able to live that lifestyle,” he said. “Our nation is fortunate in that way with our language, our culture, and our traditions, our legends and food plays a big part of it.”

Before the novel coronavirus was declared a pandemic, Tl’esqox had a proposal before the federal government seeking funding for seed for a community garden and fencing around it, as well as a possible cattle operation.

Laceese said they had been able to reach an agreement with a non-Indigenous rancher, who brings his 100-head of cattle to graze at community lands, in exchange for some cattle which are slaughtered.

”We can grow pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys, all those type of things but we have to have some structure in place to be able to do all of that so that’s what we’re working on.”

Taylor said she believes Indigenous peoples hold the key to food sovereignty.

“They have that traditional, ecological knowledge,” she said.

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