Students take action for Indigenous food rights
“Words mean nothing if the actions don’t follow,” Aleena Ahmed told us, reflecting on the week of fundraising she helped lead with peers at Stephen Lewis Secondary School (SLSS) in Mississauga, Ontario. The grade 11 student and the school’s Social Activity Council raised over $15,000 this past May in support of Canadian Feed The Children’s (CFTC) food security programs in Indigenous communities.
“The issue of food security in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities is increasingly in the media,” Cathie Twizere, a teacher who helped organize fundraisers at SLSS said, explaining her students’ keen interest in supporting Indigenous food rights. “Our students are made increasingly aware of the history and contemporary issues through the Indigenous studies course offered here.”
For a school located in Mississauga (traditional First Nations territory) Aleena believes it is her peers’ collective responsibility to work towards justice for Indigenous communities: “Aboriginal rights are really important to the staff and students at SLSS, and it was time to act on it and make a difference,” she explained. “Students who participate learn the importance of not only supporting their community, but also the importance of helping other communities as well.”
Aleena and a team of 16 fellow peers organized more than 100 volunteers from their school community to put on a series of fundraising events during their charity week, which culminated in a school carnival. In the end they exceeded their goal and raised more than $15,000.
The funds will go towards supporting Indigenous communities that are working towards greater food security in partnership with CFTC. Community-led change is mobilized through nutrition education, school breakfast and lunch programs, school and community gardens, fresh food boxes, community kitchens and other culturally-meaningful initiatives.
With CFTC moving to expand food security programming to reach 20 new Indigenous communities by 2020, support from fundraisers like the one undertaken by SLSS will help turn the tide against the ongoing gap in services many communities face.
For Aleena, this fundraising initiative underlines the importance of believing in the ability of youth – both those in her school, and in Indigenous communities across Canada – to create change: “We often make the mistake of underestimating the skills of our youth, but they are filled with amazing skills and talent.”