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Building relationships in BC: An Indigenous approach to school food advocacy

My name is Sue-Anne Banks (she/her), and I am the Indigenous Lead of the BC Chapter of the Coalition for Healthy School Food. I live, learn, work and play in the beautiful mountain town of Kimberley BC or Kukamaʔnam, the ancestral homelands of the Ktunaxa people, the original occupants and stewards of ʔamakʔis Ktunaxa. I also grew up on the beautiful beaches of the Coast Salish people in Parksville, BC, for which I also hold much gratitude. I have Nisichawayasihk Cree, Irish and Scottish lineage. I am a new mother, a MA in Leadership student, thesis candidate and writer mentee in the 2022 Audible Indigenous Writers Circle.

As Indigenous Lead of the BC Chapter of the Coalition for Healthy School Food, I am honoured to work to ensure that Indigenous communities are central to the discussion and planning for school food and educational programming for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

With momentum building for a Canada-wide school food program, the Coalition for Healthy School Food needs to ensure that all voices impacted by a program join in the creation, vision and objectives. Recognizing the harm colonial food and education systems have inflicted on Indigenous peoples over history is imperative. In developing a Canada-wide school food program, Indigenous students, families and communities must be represented and heard by provincial and federal decision-makers. It is essential that the work of the Coalition for Healthy School Food upholds Indigenous food sovereignty and supports Indigenous Nations and leaders in negotiating funding for Indigenous-led school food programs.

The BC Chapter of the Coalition for Healthy School Food secured funding to hire an Indigenous Lead, to support leadership in and engagement of Indigenous school communities across BC in the Coalition’s national and provincial advocacy efforts.

In the coming months and years, my work will build on the momentum started by Braden Etzerza, who was in this role of Indigenous Lead from January - June 2022. Braden began outreach with provincial Indigenous organizations and First Nations schools and communities across the province. You can read stories from his conversations with Sara Sam from Nak’al Bun Elementary School and PEPAḴIYE Ashely Cooper at PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ Native Plant Nursery and Garden Program at the ȽÁWELṈEW̱ Tribal School and W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Secondary School.

In addition to collecting stories from successful Indigenous-led programs, Braden also supported the development of an Indigenous School Food Working Group within the Coalition, co-hosted by Canadian Feed the Children and Farm to Cafeteria Canada, and including Indigenous school community members across turtle island.

Watch these videos to learn more about Braden’s vision for an Indigenous-led school food program and his thoughts on the role of Indigenous-led school food programs in building and upholding food sovereignty. During his time with the BC Chapter, Braden focused on youth engagement and noted the importance of community, culture, and language. He stated, "we need to be a part of the system, not apart from it." Connection is so important and integral to this work.

I look forward to following up with many of Braden’s projects and initial conversations. In particular, I believe that Storytelling is a considerable part of interconnecting people and the land we want to learn from, from youth to Elders alike, and can play such an influential role in informing policy and practice. As I meet with school communities and collect stories across BC, I plan to integrate learnings from my thesis-based research paper focused on Indigenous Phenomenology and Storytelling as a Path to Interconnective and Authentic Leadership. And other concepts like Two-eyed Seeing and the Seven Sacred Teachings.

In the pedagogy of the four directions of the medicine wheel, new beginnings start in the east. So I will begin outreach in the southeast Kootenays within the ancestral homeland of the Ktunaxa Nation with whom I already have a familiar relationship and look to build new connections. I will also bring various work and life experience elements into this position. For example, I am on a learning journey to discover more about my ancestral roots and traditional knowledge of my home nation in Nelson House, MB. They are in development mode, building new schools and infrastructure. They offer traditional learning to the students, which I hope to witness, and offer a forward thinking mindset to learn from too. I hope to have an opportunity to visit and not only incorporate my learning into my research but also my work here for the BC Chapter.

I am also in my third year on the board of directors and event chair for Columbia Outdoor School, which advocates funding to send local kids to Blue Lake camp for an extraordinary outdoor learning experience.

In this role of Indigenous Lead, I look forward to creating and maintaining connections and learning alongside many new relationships to better serve the school food system. I am passionate about my leadership as an Indigenous ally for all Nations, stakeholders and organizations I work alongside. I will work to ensure that the Coalition’s advocacy centres on Indigenous voices and that future investments in school food programs meet the needs of BC Indigenous Communities and uphold Indigenous food sovereignty.

Please feel free to reach out to me via email: and we can start a chat.

I look forward to connecting!


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