“Everyone is a knowledge holder, no matter how old you are.”
In early April 2021, we met Luke, a 12-year-old who loves spending time on the land surrounding his home in Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation (Neyaashiinigmiing).
He enjoys hunting, trapping, and doing carpentry projects with his father. He also loves hanging out with his best friend Zoe, learning how to forage for food and medicine in the woods. But his favourite hobby is fishing.
“You get to sit there, watch the rods, and when you do get to catch that, you get excited. It’s fun to learn the process of deboning the fish. My favourite is still catching it.”
Whatever they catch they eat, and whatever they can’t eat, they share with others in their reserve. Zoe’s aunt Dee (who works at the school) says that’s typical of hunting and fishing families.
“They’re not just hunting or fishing for themselves,” she says. “They make sure they can think of an Elder who they can share that with.”
Filling generational gaps
For over a decade, Dee has been running the Healthy Living Program at the local elementary school. The program emphasizes intergenerational learning and reconnecting to centuries-old Ojibway relationships with food and the land.
Dee explains: “We noticed a generational gap there. That’s what we’re trying to combat, so that this generation will have all those skills and be encouraged to pass it onto their families,”
This generational gap is a direct result of racism, colonization and the impact of the Residential School System, all deliberate attempts to destroy Indigenous culture that have left deep scars on families through generations. This has had numerous effects, including severe food insecurity, which is three times higher in First Nations than in the rest of the population.
First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples still face battles asserting their right to harvest food from the land. In 1991, the then-Chief and a local fisherman in Neyaashiinigmiing were charged with overfishing the tiny quota imposed upon them by the government. The two decided to challenge this charge in provincial court. After reviewing the history and treaties in place, the judge ruled that the community members were not guilty and the quota put onto the Ojibway was unlawful. Now, the Saugeen Ojibway are recognized as the owners of the commercial fisheries in the Saugeen peninsula and the Obijway co-run the fishery with the Ontario government.
Despite struggles like these, strong land-based traditions around food continue, and Indigenous families continue to pass on their knowledge through programming like the Healthy Living Program. Canadian Feed The Children has helped support land-based education in Neyaashiinigmiing for many years.
“Everyone is a knowledge holder, no matter how old you are.”
Knowledge sharing is key to intergenerational learning - not just from Elders to children, but often the other way around. For example, Luke is great at fishing and filleting, and teaches other adults how to do it. He also teaches his peers how to set up, bait and hide traps.
“It is important for the entire community to have these skills so that we can all harvest the same food,” he says. “And have those same opportunities.”
In turn, Luke learns a lot from his dad about trapping, tanning and skinning. When he joins in community land-based activities, he learns even more from everyone else, like Gordie, their community bushman, who has shown him how to skin a beaver.
“Everyone is a knowledge holder, no matter how old you are,” remarks Dee. She’s been a leader in developing food security programming for the community, and in the face of the pandemic, she has been making sure that everyone has the opportunity to learn the process of hunting from start to finish. Finding leaders like Luke to share with others is key to this approach, especially to help adults who may initially be intimidated by learning these skills for the first time.
“The youth really inspire their parents and community members. It really reinforces intergenerational connection.”
Luke wants to be a carpenter, not a hunter, but he is grateful that he has had the opportunity to learn so much about hunting. He knows just how important it is for his community.
“It’s important [for people] to feed themselves. I’m really thankful that we can learn this when other communities cannot.”
All Indigenous children deserve these opportunities to learn on the land
Luke’s community is one of many who are working to promote food sovereignty and revitalize relationships with their culture through land-based education. All Indigenous children deserve opportunities like this, and we can all do our part to support.
- Learn more about the reasons for Indigenous food insecurity in Canada - including the role of residential schools in creating hunger, malnutrition and long-term food insecurity.
- Review the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions 94 Calls to Action, and see where you can take action in your own life and work. Write your representatives to demand governmental action on these Calls to Action.
- Support programming that promotes Indigenous food sovereignty and addresses the impact of the pandemic on food security for Indigenous children and families.
These are small but powerful steps that you can immediately take, which will need to be followed up by continuous learning and action. Learning about this history and continued oppression can be difficult. It is important to move through this discomfort and understand that this is not a “dark chapter in our history” but a system of oppression that continues to this day. But by committing to continued self-education, solidarity and advocacy for Indigenous food sovereignty, you can help break down barriers so that all Indigenous children have the chance to thrive.
For National Indigenous History Month, Canadian Feed The Children is celebrating and uplifting traditional Indigenous food systems, and the children, families and communities who are working toward achieving Indigenous food sovereignty. Learn more about how you can support their efforts at canadianfeedthechildren.ca/indigenous.