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Indigenous School Food, Funding, and Acknowledging the Past

By Sue- Anne Banks, BC School Food Indigenous Lead

A student growing potatoes at school!

I want to recognize that I come from a diverse background of Nisichawayasihk Cree from Treaty 5 in Manitoba on my Mom’s side and Irish and English on my Dad’s side. I walk in multiple worldviews embracing cultural humility in each step—starting my life in a rural and remote community in Churchill, MB, and spending my school years along the Coast Salish beaches of Parksville, BC, I am now enjoying living in beautiful Ktunaxa territory and standing within an interconnection to my roots and culture.

This past month gave me time to acknowledge the resilience of all First Nation, Inuit, and Metis communities across Turtle Island. Despite the colonial systems that have attempted to erase our culture and knowledge, communities have continued to grow and thrive in reclaiming their teachings, agricultural systems, land-based learning, Indigenous foodways, and food sovereignty.

Indigenous people demonstrate remarkable strength and perseverance. We honour our sovereignty, spirituality, and ancestral knowledge. Unfortunately, colonization sought to disempower and force assimilation. This oppressive system introduced the residential school system, harmful foodways, excruciating experiments, and racist tactics designed to break our families. Many were lost in this struggle, but today, we are rediscovering our past and reconnecting to our ancestors and the culture taken from many of us. Through this process, we can relearn our stories and pass them on to our families. We can attempt to heal and find ourselves in the stories lost along the way.

We can turn to the Truth and Reconciliation Act's 94 Calls to Action [1] to promote reconciliation in our schools and to learn how to support Indigenous communities further by supporting Indigenous foodways . We can also embrace Indigenous Food Sovereignty and call for equity and interconnectedness in our communities. Through these practices, we can also boost students' and families' health, well-being, food literacy, and food security.

We cannot move forward without acknowledging the past. Truth then Reconciliation. Indigenous folks have been purposely isolated from resources on reservations. They have been isolated in territories that often have no access to public transportation and little to no access to doctors, employment opportunities, grocery stores, and more. These reservations are often in food deserts, and these communities have already been impacted deeply through residential schools as well. From 1942-1952 the government and its foremost nutritional scientists, the same scientists who developed Pablum, medically tested on and systematically starved residential school children. Many children died of starvation and health complications, and those that survived have struggled with a healthy relationship to food after being forced to eat mouldy and larvae-infested meals [2].

As we embrace cultural humility in bringing this sordid past forward, it is in learning and unlearning in our journeys to bring this to the federal government's attention as a reminder of and need to introduce and integrate Indigenous worldviews and traditional foodways into the school system. We can establish this by building on local relationships and bridging the gap for community school funding across Canada. This funding needs to be equitable and sustainable, and accessible to all communities of First Nation, Inuit, and Metis Peoples and with respect to the urban Indigenous youth population too. The BC Tripartite Agreement [3], a relationship between the First Nation Education Steering Committee (FNESC) and the BC and Federal governments, as well as the Regional Education Agreements in some provinces, needs to be established alike in all provinces and territories if it is not already.

I have learned here in BC that many First Nation community schools still need funding for growing food costs, transportation, and infrastructure. They also need to see a greater acknowledgment of their Indigenous foodways and adapt how to incorporate them into school food programs in First Nation community schools and public schools. Many incredible resources and guides are being created, and the tools needed to help make this happen.

As I gathered these stories, like the many school programs gathering their food, medicines, and culture across the province, I am grateful that shifts are happening in the system allowing this to take place. We honour our ancestors when we can eat the food that they did and procure the wisdom left through their voices in our stories. Indigenous Food sovereignty is key to reclaiming our land, health, wellness, and knowledge in our cultures.

There are a variety of traditionally focused programs in BC First Nation Schools across each beautiful language region. Students are given a chance to incorporate food literacy and traditional procurement from Land to Table in their schools and communities. The importance of this is immeasurable.

We can work together to create a new system of reliable long-term funding, education of food literacy, and also offering school food programming highlighting Indigenous knowledge and concerning colonial history to make an effort to help in ReconciliACTION for Indigenous Peoples. Also, it concentrates efforts on Indigenous Food Sovereignty and Food Security practices, eliminating current barriers and incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing, respect for regional land-based learning, and traditional harvesting.

This funding can be an inheritance for the seven generations ahead of us and start helping in our healing of the food harms and disconnection experienced by Indigenous People. It can elevate our diverse Indigenous Worldviews through students' eyes and minds and their bellies into creating an intuitive, adaptive, and innovative learning space. Food is the medicine we all need to learn, grow and thrive.

Would you like to learn more about Indigenous history in Canada? Here are a few resources, including the ones cited above.

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