December 3, 2018
Twenty-five people are gathered in a circle at Thunderbird House on a chilly December afternoon in Winnipeg, listening intently to a quartet of actors reading exerts from a play by Curtis Peeteetuce, entitled Pimatisiwin. It’s a story of a family’s connection to food, land, language, and each other. The playwright is among the actors.
The reading is part of a research project and workshop designed to facilitate discussion and create an action plan to remove legal and policy barriers to traditional food access for urban Indigenous people. The project is administered by the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, and is coordinated by Glenda Abbott, a food sovereignty expert from Pelican Lake First Nation. Winnipeg is the second stop on a five-destination tour that includes Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, and Montréal. In addition to the play, today’s workshop agenda includes a short film, background research, and an hour-long open discussion.
The discussion that follows the play is rich, thought-provoking, and productive with contributions from community food organizations, urban Indigenous people, those with lived experience of food insecurity, entrepreneurs, academics, and food safety specialists.
The issues are equally diverse and complex. People on Employment and Income Assistance can barely afford to eat at all on only $4 per day for food. Federal, provincial, and municipal policies are hard to understand, let alone navigate. Permitting and facility requirements are a barrier to processing and distributing country foods. At the root of the problem, colonial systems continue to dictate Indigenous status, kinship, and rights to food and land, including what can be harvested, with whom it can be shared, and under what conditions it can be sold or traded, causing many to share these foods under the table… quite literally. While we claim to be a proud multicultural society, we in fact continue to systematically oppress Indigenous food ways.
While today’s workshop does not provide any immediate or specific direction for action, it is clear that a few things will have to change. First, legislators and policy-makers need to listen to Indigenous people and challenge their own assumptions about how to solve these complex problems. As a society, we need to adequately resource opportunities for urban Indigenous people to get onto the land and harvest foods, while supporting elders and youth in preserving traditional food knowledge. We ultimately need to clarify, challenge, and reform laws and policies that continue to deny Indigenous people their food sovereignty.
Finally, we need everyone in Manitoba and Canada – not just urban Indigenous people – to know about this issue and do what they can to make change.
Watch the film Pathways: Feeding Each Other
By Rob Moquin and Alex Loeppky