- A Land Not Forgotten: Indigenous Food Security and Land-Based Practices in Northern Ontario ed. by Michael A. Robidoux and Courtney W. Mason
IN A LAND NOT FORGOTTEN: Indigenous Food Security & Land-Based Practices in Northern Ontario, researchers affiliated with the multidisciplinary Indigenous Health Research Group (IHRG) at the University of Ottawa describe their collaborative work with First Nations in northwestern Ontario, seeking to address issues of public health and food security. The communities working with IHRG are isolated, with access only to expensive food and goods; they lack many public services; and they face high rates of chronic disease, suicide, and unemployment. The goal of the book is not to dwell on these negative statistics but rather to describe their complex history and to demonstrate community-created, land-based cultural practices being used as an avenue to wellness.
The book opens with a conversation with Wawakapewin elder Simon Frogg, who shares stories about the origins of land-based foods and describes the impact of colonization on his community. Giving Frogg the first word in this book sets the tone for the message the authors are aiming to drive home: the importance of including community voices in project design and implementation.
In the introduction, Mason and Robidoux describe how academics have consumed millions of dollars of research funding to determine that Indigenous Canadians suffer from food insecurity and high rates of chronic illnesses. Yet despite this research, those rates are increasing. The authors humbly recognize their role in this type of research and then offer examples of how they have moved to a more community-derived and community-driven approach to respond to the complexities of Indigenous health and food systems in an effort to "build resiliency in ecosystem and communities" (9).
Chapter 1, by Joseph LeBlanc and Kristen Burnett, lays out the colonial conditions that have directly contributed to contemporary food insecurity and that must be taken into consideration to address these issues. While food is connected to many different systems—social, sacred, economic, cultural—the current market system puts control of food economics in the hands of remote entities driven by profit margins. Thus the solutions to [End Page 203] food insecurity cannot emerge from the existing paradigm. In the second chapter, François Haman, Bénédicte Fontaine-Bisson, Shinjini Pilon, Benoît Lamarche, and Michael A. Robidoux problematize the idea of genetic determinism to explain the disproportionate rates of chronic disease in Indigenous communities, citing other complicating factors and presenting research on the role played by foods in promoting or preventing disease. In chapter 3 Robidoux describes three of the community projects IHRG has engaged with, giving an honest assessment of the successes and challenges within each project and summarizing outcomes in a series of helpful charts that include activities, supplies needed, teachings, yields, and outcomes.
The fourth chapter, by Desirée Streit and Courtney W. Mason, lays out the history of how Western assimilationist education programs removed Native youth from their culture, homes, language, food systems, and the land. To combat the ensuing social and physical health impacts, some communities are reclaiming control through land-based curriculum development. The chapter includes a curriculum model to demonstrate how community needs can be met while also satisfying provincial curriculum standards. In the fifth chapter, Cindy Gaudet emphasizes the critical role of women in the development of land-based programs and notes that reconnecting to the land does more than increase food access for these communities; it also awakens cultural practices and knowledge expressed and embodied in the land, language, and stories. A Land Not Forgotten concludes with examples of productive collaborations between Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous organizations to improve health and cultural continuity. Mason and Robidoux highlight the need for researchers to support community-based solutions, because without addressing larger health and social issues alongside food security challenges, efforts to improve dietary practices will have little impact.
The only thing that might have improved this book would have been to hear directly from...