We interviewed Rhonda Taylor, CFTC’s Director, Canada Programs, who recently joined the team to help lead the expansion of CFTC’s National Aboriginal Nutrition program to 20 new communities by 2020. Read her thoughts on the opportunities and challenges ahead as we work in partnership with communities towards sustainable change.
- Welcome to Canadian Feed The Children, Rhonda! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your past experiences, and why you have joined CFTC?
I’ve spent my working career in the not-for-profit social services sector and for the last 15+ years worked for a national literacy organization whose mission was to support individuals, of all ages, who were struggling with various aspects of reading, writing and numeracy. In that position I was witness to the effects low literacy had on a person’s overall well-being, including health, poverty, education and employment, while at the same time being able to respond and partner with others to develop programs, secure funding, and support people where they were at and based on their individual needs and strengths.
I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with provincial governments as well as those involved in the justice system from individuals, to police, to judges; I’ve worked with a number of First Nations communities in MB, SK, AB, and BC to implement summer literacy camps for children and youth; presented at conferences to talk about the links literacy had to other social issues; and have developed and delivered workshops and training sessions for families, organizations and staff.
In addition to my working career, I sit on the Homelessness Committee for the Winnipeg Downtown Biz and participate in the organization’s annual SLEEPOUT to raise awareness about homelessness in the city. I’m the Co-Chair of Willow Place – Manitoba’s largest women shelter – and work with my fellow board members and the Executive Director to ensure we are providing a safe and supportive place for women and their children.
On a personal note, I manage my daughter’s hockey team and have coached her soccer team for the last four years. I play volleyball (indoor and beach), I love sitting on my porch and reading a book, and I love to host parties at my house that include Minute to Win It games with prizes for everyone!
Why have I come to CFTC? I’ve come to CFTC because I value the relationships I’ve been able to have and the opportunities that have been afforded to me to partner with First Nations communities. Given the history of residential schools, colonization and the conditions in which many Indigenous people are living, I wanted to be in a place where I could make the offer to be a partner in order to assist communities in making long-term sustainable change.
I felt the work of CFTC and the specific focus in Canada to build new relationships and partnerships with First Nations communities would give me the avenue to continue working in this area.
2. CFTC works hand-in-hand with engaged First Nations communities, elders and youth to support sustainable, culturally-appropriate and community-led food and nutrition programs. As you have been learning about our partnerships, has anything stood out to you in terms of what is working really well, what are the challenges, and where you see opportunities for sustainable change?
What is really working well is that many of our partners have a variety of initiatives taking place in their communities, beyond just school meal programs, which CFTC is helping to support. For example, partners with school gardens use the harvest to support school meal programs, or host a feast or celebration with Elders or grandparents using food grown in school or community gardens. There are fresh produce (Fresh for Less) boxes, cooking programs, and partners are sharing and distributing information to the community about healthy food choices and the importance of maintaining a healthy diet. Ultimately, the entire community can be benefiting from the programming.
From what I’ve heard so far, some of the challenges are trying to get back to traditional ways of living and eating. I recently visited a partner and one of the stories shared was “there used to be lots of gardening in the community; we used to do this all the time”. Partners working on the initiatives are trying to engage people in a way of life that used to exist, they’re wanting to build in more knowledge sharing from Elders about traditional ways of eating – be it harvesting vegetables, berries, plants, wild rice or hunting, and they want to engage their young people.
It is these things – getting back to traditional ways of eating, increasing local food production – that can lead to sustainable change for a community. In terms of opportunities, I think CFTC is in a position to support these types initiatives that will help communities achieve success.
- Chief Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recently stated: “Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem, it is a Canadian problem. It involves all of us.” He went on to describe how generations were denied their identity and separated from their families, language, cultural and spiritual traditions through cultural genocide. What role and responsibilities do you believe Canadian organizations who work in partnership with First Nations communities have to play in working towards reconciliation?
I think organizations have a huge role to play in reconciliation. I think we all (individuals and organizations) need to start by listening, understanding and acknowledging the history, the intergenerational effects and the complexities of the issues at hand. Many communities are dealing with a number of challenges – poor health, poverty, high suicide rates, unemployment, low educational attainment etc. I don’t think it’s about communities not having the answers or solutions to combat issues, I think it’s about finding the resources and partners needed to assist in the process.
- Canadian Feed The Children was recently awarded $1 million over four years by the Slaight Family Foundation to establish a national First Nations food security program called Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, which is designed to reach 20 new First Nations communities by 2020. Based on your impressions of CFTC’s long-standing partnerships with First Nations communities, what best practices can we bring forward to help ensure the success of this new program?
At this point I see some best practices and keys to success will be:
- Dedicated person: ensure there is a dedicated person in the community to take the lead on planning, implementing, and overseeing activities in conjunction with a Community Advisory Circle that will support the person and the programming on a variety of levels.
- Holistic programming: it will be important for CFTC and our new partners to ensure we are thinking about food security initiatives beyond school meal programs and look at holistic programming that would include, but would not be limited to, gardens AND cooking classes for kids/families AND fresh food boxes AND traditional food programming AND greenhouses AND nutrition education AND chickens or bees or both AND drying, preserving, and canning…always thinking about “and what else can we do to address food security”.
- Community driven: an important driver of success will be to ensure the programming remains community-led, supported and “owned” by a number of key stakeholders in each community.
The issue of poverty is complex and requires a number of players/solutions at the table and I think the issue of food security is multi-faceted and will require a number of different initiatives within a community in order to be successful.
- By 2020, what do you hope our First Nations partner communities will have achieved with the support of CFTC and our donors?
My hope is CFTC and our partners will have built a solid foundation and will be on a path to developing long-term sustainable change in communities so that we can get to a point where the community says to us “Thank you…we’ve got this!”