NAN community project coordinator Joseph LeBlanc said access to food is a key issue for many First Nations.
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Food sovereignty is one of the most important issues facing First Nation communities, said a member of Aroland First Nation.
“In the past we’ve had a lot of non-native foods introduced to us, which has been one of the major causes of issues with diabetes, obesity, things like that and they’re affecting all of our communities,” said Mark Bell, economic development officer for Aroland.
Bell is one of 85 people from 26 Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities attending NAN’s third annual food symposium in Thunder Bay this week. The three-day symposium kicked off Tuesday morning at the Best Western Nor’Wester hotel.
The symposium is a way for representatives from different communities to share their experiences and initiatives with each other and examine the issues facing them like high food costs, lack of availability or how to grow their own food, said Bell.
“It’s something I feel is really important because all of our communities need to really look into our food governance and try to control, get some control, of the types of foods coming into our communities so we can have healthier communities,” he said.
Bell added Aroland has an advantage over some of the more remote communities because it has a road and access to healthier food and things like soil for gardening is easier. For the communities further north, they have to fly those supplies in and that’s expensive.
“There are things like that, (which) really impeded other communities in their initiatives, but for Aroland I think our location has helped us be a major part of these initiatives,” he said.
The three-day event also includes tours of area farms and healthy food initiatives like the Thunder Bay Country Market and the True North Community Cooperative and community kitchens.
NAN community project coordinator Joseph LeBlanc said they want to bring initiatives like these to the communities along with more traditional practices like fishing, hunting and collecting berries.
They also have a blueberry initiative that sees the fruit distributed throughout Northern Ontario and they hope to build stronger connections with the region’s farming community.
LeBlanc said the symposium is important for building dialogue within the NAN communities and this year has seen the largest number of participants since the event’s inception.
“There’s a growing interest because we’re planning for ourselves and in doing that we’re building sovereignty and connecting within the nation,” he said, adding all of these food initiatives and programs are aimed to help the community members.
“This is for them. This is to build new structures that has them access food in a just and reasonable way,” he said. “We have a lot of health issues that are implications of food insecurity.
“By building our own food system, we can start to repair some of that.”
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