Thompson Rivers University

Research highlights importance of Indigenous food sovereignty

June 1, 2022

Spawning salmon in the Adams River. Photo by Steve Heather.

For a team of researchers focused on revitalizing Indigenous food systems and promoting Indigenous food sovereignty, funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) couldn’t have come soon enough.

The award provides $249,470 to nominated principal investigator Dawn Morrison, co-leaders Dr. Lisa Bourque Bearskin, Dr. Jeff Corntassel, Dr. Hannah Wittman and their team for their research project, Indigenous food sovereignty community well-being amidst a pandemic.

“As a co-principal investigator, the Indigenous Health Nursing research team is eager to support this community-led research,” says Bourque Bearskin, School of Nursing faculty member at Thompson Rivers University. “The focus on COVID is an extremely important inquiry that is generated from within the community to promote understanding of its impact on traditional economies and governance founded on the right to self-determination and permanent sovereignty over everything that sustains life for future generations, including traditional lands, wellness practice and resources invested during the COVID pandemic.”

Independence and decolonization

For Indigenous communities, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated pre-existing inequities and vulnerabilities related to food insecurity and health outcomes. The project recognizes the importance of traditional and ancestral knowledge and Indigenous Peoples’ intimate connection to the land.

“The project will apply the decolonizing food system’s transformative framework, developed by the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty (WGIFS), and look at how Indigenous food sovereignty and Indigenous land based  health and wellness interfaces with the medical response to COVID,” says Dawn Morrison, member of the Secwépemc nation, and founder and curator of WGIFS.

“So, we’re really coming at it from an Indigenous hunting, fishing and gathering narrative since that narrative was largely erased and dispossessed in colonial policy, planning and governance, by the bureaucratic structures that were designed to dispossess us. And with the global food security crisis being what it is, it’s become ever more important to get our boots on the ground — we need to get busy. We need to grow and harvest food, go out on the land and monitor what’s happening with our hunting and fishing. We need to assert ourselves because there are a lot of threats right now.”

Research on the ground

Looking ahead, Morrison is excited about the participatory action-oriented health and wellness work the research team and community will be doing on Neskonlith Indian Reserve #1, near Chase.

“There’s funding for culture camps on the land, starting with the Cwelcwelt Kuc we are well garden project,” says Morrison.

“It’s land-based healing and learning work, and it’s transformative. The decolonizing food system framework provides a framework to activate and build on the blood memory of health and wellness we enjoyed over thousands of years as Secwépemc people. It also offers structure needed to create cultural safety for Indigenous Peoples who carry the burden of cross-cultural capacity needed to persist into the present-day colonial reality.”

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