Season three’s premiere episode of Working it Out Together on APTN features co-creator/host Waneek Horn-Miller and Kahnawa:ke’s Heath Promotion Consultant Alex McComber as they tackle the effects of colonization and structural racism on the eating habits of First Nations people in Canada today. Currently it is estimated that 25% of people living on reserve have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which is more than double the rate of the general population of Canada. However Kanawa:ke has statistically remained constant at 12%.
We learn in this installment that obesity and diabetes can be directly linked to colonization. After the Canadian government limited the availability of traditional foods, food was used as an instrument of control that coerced Indigenous people across Canada onto reserves. This act instantly meant that traditional, active self-sufficient ways were lost and life became sedentary and dependent. The foods that had been the norm were no longer. The government supplied communities with alternatives that were significantly higher in saturated fat, salt, sugar, and alcohol. This drastic dietary change further hampered the health and well-being of Indigenous populations across Canada.
The effects of the Indian Residential School compounded this problem by creating generations of young people with unhealthy relationships with food. Chronic hunger was the norm at residential schools, and the food that was supplied to students was consistently substandard in quality and nutritional value. Coupled with this unhealthy relationship with food that persists today is the lack of healthy food choices available to lower income families across Canada. Fresh and healthy foods with short shelf lives are always the more expensive choice; a price point often out of reach for lower income families struggling to feed their families. All of these factors have created a recipe for endemic health crises across Canadian communities.
Alex McComber believes the trauma of losing land, losing culture, and the horrors of the residential school system are to blame for the health crises that today’s Indigenous people experience. To reverse this health crisis, healing from generations of traumas must first occur. Additionally, there is a strong focus on educating the youth of Kahnawa:ke about healthy lifestyles and choices, with the hope that it encourages family and community involvement as a whole.
To add a personal face to this crisis, we follow the story of Konwenni Jacobs, an active mother of two from Kahnawa:ke who has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. We experience her journey with her partner Brian Williams — recently diagnosed as pre-diabetic — as they struggle to improve their well-being, making healthy food choices and adhering to a stricter fitness regime.
This premiere episode drives home the fact that the ability to choose healthy foods in Canada has become a political issue, not just for Indigenous communities but for any community experiencing economic hardships. However, McComber expands on this to remind us that the foods that we place in our bodies are not just fuel but medicine; everything we ingest is medicine for our bodies.
Season three’s premiere episode also coincides with today’s launch of the show’s companion online magazine Working It Out Together.