Food, a basic critical necessity in every organisms daily lives for survival but sadly is not accessed equally by all individuals on this planet. Many countries across the world are reported to have citizens who are not provided adequate nutrition needed to survive (United Nation, n.d). Amongst seven of the world’s advanced economies also known as G7, Canada is one of them (Government of Canada, 2023). Although Canada is a country with high economic status, indigenous communities are continuing to struggle with food insecurity more severely compared to non-indigenous communities (The Borgen Project, 2023).
Food insecurity, defined through University of Toronto’s definition as “Household food insecurity is the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints” (University of Toronto, n.d). Additional hurdles causing food insecurity include economic disadvantages, high transportation costs, limited infrastructure, historical injustices due to colonialism and environmental concerns (Alabi and Robin, 2022). Canadian Indigenous communities affected by food insecurity include Inuit, Métis, First Nations living on- and off- reserve, Six Nations First Nations, Attawapiskat First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation.
Attawapiskat First Nation, Food Insecurity and Health Concerns
The Attawapiskat First Nation is an isolated First Nation located in Kenora District in northern Ontario, Canada, by the Attawapiskat River, 5 kilometers from the James Bay coastline (National Ministries International, 2022). Attawapiskat First Nation has over 2800 members, with only 1549 living on-reserve. A local author named Franks shared his experience in Attawapiskat First Nation in 2016 related to food insecurity. Franks stated the skyrocketing price of food in this Northern region. For instance, a case of water bottles which cost $2.99 in Muskota, costs $42.00 in Attawapiskat (Truax, 2018). The reason behind this excessive price for food is because Attawapiskat is a remote village usually reached by a plane or icy roads during the colder winter months which limits transportation options. Community’s traditional food supply is heavily based on fishing but due to climate change the changes in ice patterns and water temperatures has decreased the fish population which in turn lead to food insecurity. The overly priced nutritious food has led the people of Attawapiskat to depend on less costly but highly processed foods detrimental to human health including diabetes and obesity. The rate of diabetes is five times higher than the national average (Truax, 2018).
Figure 1. The entire vegetable section for 1500 to 2000 people in Attawapiskat (Truax, 2018).
Six Nations First Nations, Food Insecurity and Health Concerns
Six Nations of the Grand River (SNGR), located 20 kilometers southwest of Hamilton, Southern Ontario, with an area of 50,000 acres, is Canada's Biggest First Nations reserve (Six Nations of the Grand River, 2023). The reserve consists of six tribes: Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga and Tuscarora. Currently SNGR land includes about less than 5% of the land promised in the 1700’s by the Treaty of Haldimand leading to more land being lost to colonization, losing agricultural grounds and losing land to environment issues, ultimately causing food insecurity. Losing land to colonization has greatly impacted this community’s ways of obtaining their traditional food sources such as through hunting, and fishing. Lands lost through environmental issues such as pollution, deforestation and contaminated water lead to decreased access to wholesome food sources. In this nation, there's an increased prevalence of chronic illnesses including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity due to the more affordable, inexpensive, highly processed foods (Six Nations of the Grand River, 2023).
Neskantaga First Nation, Food Insecurity and Health Concerns
Neskantaga First Nation is an Ojibwe community located 436 kilometers northeast of Thunder Bay and 180 kilometers northeast of Pickle Lake in Ontario, Canada (Neskantaga First Nation, 2023). Neskantaga First Nation has over 400 members with 300 people living on-reserve. Neskantaga being a remote area, consisting of limited infrastructure and high transportation costs are all leading causes of food insecurity. This community relies heavily on transported food which is usually expensive but also irregular. Chief Wayne Moonias mentioned the prohibited price of food such as $40 to $70 for a 10-kilogram bag of flour and $30 for sugar (Law, 2023). Traditional foods are now a luxury to Neskantaga First Nations. Sturgeon remains a critical part of the diet for people living in the Neskantaga First Nation as food from grocery stores are beyond budget. David Paul Achneepineskum, a chief executive officer of Matawa First Nations Management spoke on the disruption of Indigenous diets due to the reliance on processed food. Although inexpensive and easily accessible, many people in this region are also facing health issues such as cancer and heart disease due to the lack of nutritious foods.
Figure 2. A tin of coffee sells for $32.79 in Neskantaga First Nation (Law, 2023).
Food Insecurity and Indigenous Mental Health
Several studies have linked household food insecurity to psychological distress in many indigenous communities. A study published by Cambridge University Press measured the association between household food insecurity and psychological distress in adolescents in Inut communities of Nunavik in Northern Quebec, concurrently and overtime from childhood to adolescence (Laplante et al., 2020). This study used behaviors such as anxiety, withdrawn attitude, somatic complaints and depression as indicators of psychological distress in adolescents. As well as, a longitudinal assessment of household food insecurity from childhood to adolescents. Concurrent severe household insecurity in adolescents resulted in higher measures of psychological distress such as depression and withdrawn attitude. Persistent household food insecurity (childhood to adolescents) is associated with higher levels of adolescent depression and anxiety (Laplante et al., 2020).
Figure 3. Relationship between income and household food insecurity (Statistics Canada, 2012).
Possible actions for better access to food
Improving Hunting Capacities
Increase subsidies to ensure more equipment is available to be used for hunting
Train younger generations in traditional hunting skills through programs
Improving Processing and Distribution Capacity
Investing in community infrastructure
Extend funding in Indigenous regions
Create stronger connections between local processors and hunters
Improving Awareness About Traditional Foods
Promote the market of local foods
Invest in programs that provide Indigenous food exposure at a younger age
Figure 4. Traditional foods hunted/ foraged in Canadian Indigenous Communities (Food For Thought, 2023).