Heal. Grow. Thrive: Celebrating National Indigenous History Month

|  Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Heal. Grow. Thrive: Celebrating National Indigenous History Month

"Generations to Come" by Sarah Cronier, CFTC 's Senior Officer, Indigenous Programs and Partnerships

BY: KAMRYN WHITEYE (Takwaxkwe), Eleunaapeewi Lahkehwiit
Communications Officer, Canadian Feed The Children
CONTENT WARNING: Residential School Trauma

Indigenous artwork of a bearThis June, Canadian Feed The Children (CFTC) joins all Canadians across Turtle Island in celebrating National Indigenous History Month. Standing alongside our partner communities, learning our shared history, and supporting community-led initiatives, we honour the restoration of our connection with communities.

This month, we are recognizing and celebrating the journey Indigenous communities are taking to heal, grow, and thrive, highlighting the importance of reclaiming traditional knowledge, fostering resilience, and promoting holistic wellbeing across generations. Together, we aim to amplify community voices, community-led programs and initiatives, and promote ways in which we can further support Indigenous communities and youth.


HEAL

For millennia, Indigenous communities have thrived by harvesting, planting, and cultivating their own sustenance while pioneering traditional methods of hunting, fishing, and gathering. However, European colonization disrupted these age-old food systems, imposing a reliance on non-wildlife sources.

a girl stands in a greenhouse

Greenhouses in Natoagangeg are just one of the ways in which the community is healing from the colonization of food, and supporting traditional food systems

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, colonialization drastically affected individual and communal control of local food systems. Traditional practices like harvesting, hunting, and gardening were regulated or banned, resulting in a loss of access to Indigenous foods, erasure of community knowledge about food, and weakened cultural resilience. This has led to a long-term disruption in the relationship communities have with food that continues to affect local health and food security. This trend persisted within Residential Institutions (Schools), where according to the NCTRA, over 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were compelled to enroll from the 1870s to the 1990s. Many of these children experienced neglect, abuse, and malnutrition that caused long-term health consequences that persist across generations.

CFTC’s partner community, Natoaganeg (Eel Ground) First Nation, shares and reflects on the stories passed down from their Residential Institution (School) Survivors to their families. Community members are only now beginning to reflect on and process the starvation and abuse that Indigenous children experienced. In more extreme cases, the children were forced to eat animal food as punishment. Food became weaponized and a part of the intergenerational trauma that the community and many Residential Institutions (School) Survivors have faced in its years of operation.

Food insecurity remains a pressing social issue in Indigenous communities today. According to the Borgen Project, 52% of Indigenous households with children experience food insecurity, compared to 9% of non- Indigenous households. The Hungercount 2023 Report by Food Banks Canada further underscores this disparity, revealing that nearly half (48%) of people who are Indigenous reported having gone hungry in the previous 12 months due to lack of money for food, compared to 15% of the non-Indigenous population.

Moreover, Indigenous communities grapple with numerous challenges exacerbating food insecurity. Food prices, often 2.5 times higher than national averages, pose a significant burden. Barriers to accessing traditional foods, limited food supplies, and sparse access to grocery suppliers, particularly in remote areas, compound these challenges.

children holding butcher knives, carving up a moose carcass

Children in Indigenous communities across Turtle Island participate in traditional cooking to gain a better understanding of nutrition and cultural foods

Consequently, many Indigenous families are compelled to resort to cheaper, less nutritious food options, perpetuating a cycle of inadequate nutrition. For children, this can lead to nutritional deficiencies, hindering academic performance and exacerbating mental health issues like stress and depression.

To advance intergenerational healing, Indigenous communities are working to restore food systems through youth engagement and learning about healthy foods. For example, Natoagangeg (Eel Ground) provides school education in understanding the bodily functions, the consequences of sugary foods, and nutrition facts to equip the next generation with the tools to take care of their bodies. Not only learning but front-lining food sovereignty initiative, youth leader, Grayce, learns stewardship practices of the land by maintaining the local school garden that supports the nutrition education program.

"Healthy food makes us strong, helps us think better, and keeps us connected to our land," Grayce says.


GROW

Only after healing begins can growth become possible. Maintaining and implementing community and school gardens are just one of the ways that our partner communities have reclaimed healthy food learning and growing. The concept of growth extends beyond cultivating nutritious food; it encompasses growing traditional knowledge, community resilience, connection to the land, and future leaders.

Last year, CFTC’s Indigenous Communities across Turtle Island implemented:

  • 200 new home, school, and community gardens
  • More than 13,000 lbs. of fresh produce grown in gardens and food forests

For instance, our partner Neyaashiinigmiing has made significant strides in asserting Anishinaabe cultural traditions and intergenerational knowledge. At the local public school, each class harvests and maintains individual garden boxes while also having a hand in maintaining the local school garden. This hands-on approach instills confidence in the students as they learn to produce their own food and connect with their heritage.

a little boy smiles proudly with dirt on his hands

Children in Neyashiinigmiing are connecting to the land through the gardening program

Children in partner communities across Turtle Island are becoming “champions for change,” playing pivotal roles tending to their home, school, and community gardens. These youth leaders often collaborate with community programs to help grow and expand these gardens, creating a ripple effect that benefits many. This has been successful for communities in many ways, as youth, Elders, and community members have all been engaged in gardening activities. They have not only gained skills, but they have been able to connect with each other.

As seen in Neyashiinigmiing, community gardens have become “a safe gathering space.” Dee Millar, the community’s Healthy Living Program coordinator, highlights the gardens’ role in providing relief from the effects of inflation. Garden produce such as potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers have been welcome supplements to the food available to families.

We have heard so much positive feedback, comments from the families, of just how happy they are that their kids are learning these skills, and that they see it, they're bringing it into their home and encouraging their families to grow... that is all we can hope and pray for is that what we are offering... they would take that seed we gave them and plant it in their lives, to eventually grow and produce fruit,” Dee says.


THRIVE

Thriving is the culmination of healing and growth, representing a state of abundance, prosperity, and well-being. For Indigenous communities, thriving means having access to nutritious food, preserving and celebrating cultural heritage, and achieving self-determination. It’s about creating a sustainable and resilient future where individuals and communities can flourish and shape their own futures.

CFTC’s partner communities have led the preparation of healthy snacks and meals for school children to alleviate the effects of food insecurity, and feed young minds. In the past year, 342,775 snacks and meals were provided to 6,025 school food programs and 4,293 food hampers were distributed to 589 families.

Many of our partners at CFTC value nutritional education and have implemented ways in which youth and community members can engage and learn through cooking classes. In 2023, 4,081 people were trained in cooking and food-use.

a woman is planting seedlings in a raised garden bed

Indigenous food systems are returning communities to the old ways where self-determination prevails.

Indigenous communities across Turtle Island continue to thrive despite the circumstances and barriers they face in social issues and emergencies such as lack of access to water and other basic human needs. The programming and initiatives of CFTC partner communities has impacted thousands of children’s lives, empowering youth to be activators of change and intergenerational strength.

Michelle Brass, an Indigenous speaker, writer, wellness coach, and thought leader educates folks on the implementation principles of natural Indigenous law, teachings, and self-determination to address challenges like food insecurity in community.

When you look at the main four pillars of Indigenous food sovereignty, we recognize that food is sacred first and foremost, it's gifts from the Creator. It also requires a land-based approach, meaning we have to actively get out on the land to gather those foods and medicines for our communities and deepen our relationship with Mother Earth,” Michelle says, on Indigenous self-determination and its connection to food sovereignty.

Allowing communities to lead their way back to traditional food systems, sustainability, and cultural revitalization is the epitome of thriving for the continuation of healthy communities for the next generations.



UPLIFTING COMMUNITY, RESTORING BALANCE

Indigenous style artwork of a foxIn the medicine wheel teachings, every direction, colour, and prayer holds a significant meaning and purpose, bringing balance and harmony to Indigenous communities and their wellbeing. We all have a responsibility to bring balance to Turtle Island. This National Indigenous History Month, here is how you can participate:

Give a gift. Support Indigenous food sovereignty initiatives by donating today. Your contribution will help establish and maintain community gardens and food forests, providing Indigenous communities with the resources they need to reclaim their food systems, grow traditional crops, and develop sustainable agricultural practices. Your gift will be matched 2x until June 30.

Learn. Educate yourself about Indigenous food sovereignty and its importance in nurturing communities. Explore stories, resources, and educational materials to deepen your understanding.

Check out our Resource Hub and the following links:

Advocate. Take action to support Indigenous-led initiatives and raise awareness for efforts that uphold food sovereignty, cultural preservation, and Indigenous rights. Your voice matters in spreading awareness and supporting the vital work of Indigenous communities.

Anushiik, Miigwech, Nai:wen, Thank you!

A special acknowledgement to CFTC Senior Program Officer of Indigenous Programs and Partnerships, Sarah Cronier, for her beautiful artwork featured throughout the campaign, including the blog banner titled "Generations to Come."