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Webinar Recap: Indigenous-led School Food Programs; Bringing Indigenous Food Sovereignty to the Fore

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

Written by: Lindsay Goodridge, MPH (‘21)

During the Cultivating Change webinar hosted by Food Secure Canada, attendees had the opportunity to hear from 4 school food providers who bring Indigenous Food Sovereignty to the forefront of their programs during the Lessons from Indigenous-led School Food Programs session on November 17. Below is a summary of the presentations:

Terri-Anne Larry, Principal, Natoaganeg Mi’kmaq School | (00:06:56)

At Natoaganeg School, located on Eel Ground First Nation (New Brunswick), the experiences of residential school survivors are at the root of healing. The traumatic history of what survivors endured is carried with them and many Indigenous people continue to work out their relationship with food. The school teaches students about nutrition as an act of reconciliation:

“It makes sense for us to teach about nutrition and about healthy minds, bodies and spirits as an act of Reconciliation. Our survivors were malnourished and in many cases starved. To teach and feed our students needs to happen for our own healing and our relationship with food.”

The school cafeteria is a serene oasis, painted by a local Mi’kmaq artist, that includes animals in the territory as well as traditional medicines. Their program, Kelulk Mijipjewey - We Eat Good Food, provides students with a plethora of experiences with food including; preparing and serving food at gatherings with Elders and volunteers; tending their school garden; Mi’kmaq Monday where students are encouraged to wear regalia and traditional foods are served; and older students participate in a sweat before the harvest feast. Their programs pair spiritual ceremonies and community events with their feasts as much as possible. In the future, when COVID regulations will allow, the program wants to include student participation in fishing and preparing traditional meats like moose.

Katherine Alexander, Yukon First Nations Education Directorate (YFNED), Director of Policy and Analytics; Melanie Bennett, Yukon First Nation Education Directorate, Executive Director | (00:36:34)

The Directorate has worked with all 14 First Nations in the Yukon to create a universal nutrition service and ensure every student has access to good food using funding secured through Jordan’s Principle.

The funding has allowed them to work with each First Nation community to get them the services they need and this touched on all the Key Values of Substantive Equality; self-determination, culture and language, non-discrimination, structural interventions, and holistic approach, while at the center tying everything together is food. The YNFED’s mission is “unified control over First Nations education so we can empower our people in our ways of knowing and prepare our children to be active participants in the current world”. The YNFED is a new First Nation organization created through the Leadership table at the Council of Yukon First Nations. It is governed by the Chiefs Committee on Education. It was important to the YNFED that the universal nutrition service was Indigenous-led and driven by the communities as communities know best what services they need.

Gray Oron, Fresh Roots Co-Founder and the Project Manager at the Suwa’lkh School | (00:58:12)

Fresh Roots identifies themselves as a settler organization that acknowledges the harm that schooling and farming have done to the land and Indigenous people and works towards reconciliation as listeners, food sharers, and land stewards. At Suwa’lkh, they use learning styles from first peoples ways of knowing and being and try to connect diverse youth from various nations to their traditions and the land. Their programing includes: a native plant propagation program; a salmon in the classroom program where students raise salmon and release them in the stream then share in a ceremony and meal with Elders afterwards; food production in their gardens; field classes focusing on food literacy; and many others that create relationships with food before it’s on students’ plates.

Tanya Senk, Centrally Assigned Principal, TDSB Urban Indigenous Education Centre and Principal of the Kapapamahchakwew-Wandering Spirit School | (01:20:00)

The Wandering Spirit School is developing programming that encompasses the vision of self-determination through Indigenous education. The program is rooted in Indigenous knowledge, guided by Elders, with community engagement at its heart and is an opportunity for students to investigate food-related challenges that Indigenous peoples have and continue to face. Although the program faces challenges to addressing Indigenous food sovereignty in an urban center, they engage students in learning on and reconnecting to the land, they employ two Indigenous chefs in their kitchen, and they partner with Universities and Colleges to provide opportunities for apprenticeship. Tanya shared that Indigenous Food Sovereignty seeks to “recuperate Indigenous knowledge in the hands of Indigenous peoples, leading the way and carrying on that knowledge from one generation to the next”.

Indigenous Food Sovereignty and Indigenous-led initiatives are crucial steps in reconciliation. As Tanya shared, Indigenous Food Sovereignty “attempts to address the root causes of colonization” and “in order to look at the ideological underpinnings of food sovereignty, we must also understand our very close relationship with Mother Earth and with food”. Thank you to all of the presenters for sharing your knowledge and perspectives on such a crucial topic.

The full recording of this panel is available at

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