Members of the Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research (AICBR) team just returned home from attending Food Secure Canada's 9th National Assembly in Toronto, with many outcomes to share. At this Assembly there were more than 900 participants from all aspects of our food system, 50+ skills building workshops, tours, keynotes, networking opportunities, and plenaries and panels related to 10 different streams, with topics ranging from innovation within the agriculture sector, to renewable energy and food justice, to aid and global food security.
Northern Networking Meetings Hosted by AICBR
There was a strong Northern focus at the Assembly as well. AICBR hosted two participatory meetings: a Northern Networking and Information Sharing Gathering and an Open Space on the possibility of a Northern Food Summit. These gatherings welcomed 35 and 20 people respectively, who were either currently living and working in the North or are interested in Northern food security. At the Networking gathering, we learned about initiatives going on in other regions related to food security and identified some common strengths and needs for improving food security across the North. During the Open Space we discussed the possibility of bringing key Northern leaders for a Northern Food Summit to advance food security planning on a pan-Northern scale.
Advancing Food Security Across Canada’s North – A Co-Hosted Session
As part of the Indigenous and Northern Stream, AICBR also co-hosted a session called “Advancing Food Security Across Canada’s North”, with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) and Food First Newfoundland and Labrador. At this session, we heard how communities and regions across the North are developing their own food security strategies and using innovative ways to communicate stories of resilience and strength. AICBR gave a presentation about the food security project recently completed in and led by Kluane First Nation, which was delivered by Mary Jane Johnson (KFN Elder and Project Advisor) and Norma Kassi, Co-Founder and Director of Indigenous Collaboration at AICBR. Jody Butler Walker, Co-Founder and Co-Director at AICBR also provided an overview of AICBR and the principles of community-based research as well as shared some highlights from AICBR’s recent Yukon Food Security Roundtable.
Honourable Dr. Carolyn Bennett Addresses Northern and Indigenous Food Sovereignty Issues
Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Honourable Dr. Carolyn Bennett (pictured left), spoke on the final day (October 17th) and echoed what many other speakers had said throughout the Assembly: Communities need to be supported in finding their own solutions to food insecurity. What was central to the discussions around food security at this gathering was that food security can be a solution to solving many other important issues, in particular climate change. As part of the final plenary addressing the Minister and presenting some of the key messages from the Assembly, Norma Kassi emphasized the importance of Northerners having a voice in all matters to do with their food, as the highest rates of food insecurity in this country are in the North. She believes that supporting youth to be leaders in this movement is also crucial.
Norma Presented with Cathleen Kneen Award for her Food Security and Food Sovereignty Work in the North
Norma’s work to build a healthy, inclusive and sustainable food system, despite the rising challenges in the North was acknowledged on the final day; she and fellow food movement activator, Abra Brynne, were presented with FSC’s Cathleen Kneen Award. In her acceptance speech, Norma thanked her ancestors, her colleagues, the crowd, and Cathleen Kneen for starting the Indigenous Circle within FSC to push the bar on Indigenous sovereignty in this country. Just as the theme of reconciliation was interwoven throughout the Assembly, so too evolved the themes of rejuvenation, love and the need for reconnection to the land and our food. In Norma's acceptance speech for the Cathleen Kneen Award, she highlighted that we all share the land and thus will all benefit from reconnection.
"We need to keep Mother Earth at the centre of all that we do... We need to care for her with every step we take on her land... We need to take care while we drink her water, pick her plants, and smell her flowers." - Norma Kassi, AICBR
Moving Beyond Reclaiming Our Food System to Re-Empowering Ourselves Through Our Food
Having a voice in our food system was highlighted as a clear way in which we can re-empower ourselves through our food system, as emphasized by Tabitha Martens from the University of Manitoba, also a presenter during the final plenary. Raising the voice of the people as part of policy development is also a key and timely opportunity as Canada is in the midst of putting together the country's first National Food Policy. What was heard loud and clear from multiple perspectives is the need to have a policy that includes and reflects the diverse needs of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, northern and southern, coastal-living and prairie-living, and rural and urban people in Canada.
Northerners want to have food systems that reflect the local knowledge, skills and diverse ecosystems that are present in the North and they do not want to have solutions imposed from the outside any longer. In all of this, it was recognized that people, governments, organizations, and the private sector have to work together within each of their communities in order to advance a food system that works for all.
AICBR would like to thank Food Secure Canada for putting on this fantastic, energizing Assembly and for aiding in bringing Northern and Indigenous voices to the forefront of conversations around food. We’d also like to specifically thank the Sprott Foundation, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and the Public Health Agency of Canada whose support helped bring Northerners to the table for this Assembly.