Recap: Working It Out Together: Traditional Food in a Modern World

Episode five of Working It Out Together tackles the the barrier that many Canadians face every day: access to healthy fresh food. Host Waneek Horn-Miller believes that by limiting the  availability of nutritious foods, those from  lower socio-economic sectors are dependent on high sugar and high starch foods. She sees this practice as an act of aggression on Indigenous people, as a low-nutrient diet does not ensure the health and well-being of children in Canada. However, when communities work to restore traditional foods by means of cultivation or hunting, people not only improve their health but they decolonize their ways of thinking.

This edition examines corn, a food that historically accounted for 80% of the diet for Indigenous people. We learn about both mass produced corn and the traditional farming techniques associated with corn crops. Bonnie Skye, Mohawk from Six Nations of Grand River,  is a corn knowledge keeper, and is restoring traditional corn to her community’s daily diet. Teri Morrow, a dietician from Cayuga Nation discusses how the Residential School System acted to remove the people from their traditional foods. “When you remove that connection from the family and the land and food is just given to you, you’ve just broken any sort of relationship that you can have to either the earth, the land, the food, the water, anything. It doesn’t mean as much as it should.”

Donnie Martin, discusses the benefits he  has seen whilst hunting traditional local game to feed his family. The exposure of his young family to hunting and fishing normalizes the process for his children; educating them in the traditional ways.

Dr. Karl Hele  of Concordia University described the traditional farming village, with its systems of irrigation and crop rotation. The general stewardship of the land provided healthier food than that in a comparably sized village in Europe.  When settlers began to colonize the land these traditional ways were lost; settlers would destroy the food source using scorched earth tactics and effectively starved the people. Soon after the loss of farms and homes the people were moved to reserves, and prohibited by law from selling their produce to non-Indians. This in turn legally freed up land for lease for to settlers to  make “proper use” of. In short, food was used as a weapon to ensure the people remain poor in this new and evolving economy.

This episode, whilst an extremely important topic to cover, and perhaps the most accessible strategy for the average person to take up as an act of decolonization — and thus very important to learn from–was, in my opinion, not as engaging as it could have been. I would have liked to know more about the laws that aggressively criminalized food production that subversively introduced the structural racism we see so prevalently today.