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Strengthening Indigenous Sustainable Food Production Systems

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  1. The food sovereignty movement is building around the world and while there is no universal definition, it can be described as the newest and most innovative approach to achieving the end goal of long term food security.

  2. Indigenous food sovereignty is a specific policy approach to addressing the underlying issues impacting Indigenous peoples and their ability to respond to their own needs for healthy, culturally adapted Indigenous foods.

While the language and concept of food sovereignty have only recently been introduced in Indigenous communities, the living reality is not a new one. Indigenous food-related knowledge, values, and wisdom built up over thousands of years provide a basis for identifying four key principles that guide the present-day food sovereignty movement in Indigenous communities.

  1. Sacred or divine sovereignty – Food is a gift from the Creator; in this respect, the right to food is sacred and cannot be constrained or recalled by colonial laws, policies, and institutions. Indigenous food sovereignty is fundamentally achieved by upholding our sacred responsibility to nurture healthy, interdependent relationships with the land, plants, and animals that provide us with our food.

  2. Participatory – fundamentally based on “action”, or the day-to-day practice of maintaining cultural harvesting strategies. To maintain Indigenous food sovereignty as a living reality for both present and future generations, continued participation in cultural harvesting strategies at all the individual, family, community, and regional levels are key.

  3. Self-determination- The ability to respond to their own needs for healthy, culturally adapted Indigenous foods. The ability to make decisions over the amount and quality of food we hunt, fish, gather, grow and eat. Freedom from dependence on grocery stores or corporately controlled food production, distribution, and consumption in industrialized economies.

  4. Policy - Reconcile Indigenous food and cultural values with colonial laws and policies and mainstream economic activities for policy reform in forestry, fisheries, rangeland, environmental conservation, health, agriculture, and rural and community development.

Indigenous Land and Food Systems

The vast myriad of rivers, watersheds, landforms, vegetation, and climatic zones have worked together for thousands of years to shape and form Indigenous land and food systems. Consisting of a multitude of natural communities, Indigenous food systems include all of the land, air, water, soil, and culturally important plant, animal, and fungi species that have sustained Indigenous peoples over thousands of years. All parts of Indigenous food systems are inseparable and ideally function in healthy interdependent relationships to transfer energy through the present-day agriculture-based economy that has been developed and industrialized through the process of colonization.

In contrast to the highly mechanistic, linear food production, distribution, and consumption model applied in the industrialized food system, Indigenous food systems are best described in ecological rather than neoclassical economic terms. In this context, an Indigenous food is one that has been primarily cultivated, taken care of, harvested, prepared, preserved, shared, or traded within the boundaries of our respective territories based on values of interdependency, respect, reciprocity, and ecological sensibility. As the most intimate way in which Indigenous peoples interact with our environment, Indigenous food systems are in turn maintained through our active participation in traditional land and food systems.

Why must we work towards food sovereignty in Indigenous communities?

Since the time of colonization, Indigenous communities have witnessed a drastic decline in the health and integrity of Indigenous cultures, ecosystems, social structures and knowledge systems which are integral to our ability to respond to our own needs for adequate amounts of healthy Indigenous foods. Indigenous food sovereignty provides a restorative framework for health and community development and reconciling past social and environmental injustices in an approach that people of all cultures can relate to.

“Food will be what brings the people together” - Secwepemc Elder, Jones Ignace.

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