Meet Zoe: Zero Hunger Champion in Neyaashiinigmiing

Meet Zoe: Zero Hunger Champion in Neyaashiinigmiing

EDITOR'S NOTE: Since we wrote this article in February 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and worsened food insecurity, decreased children's access to education, and set back gender equality for years to come. The Global Goals have never been more important than now. Working towards achieving the goals is imperative as they provide crucial framework for COVID-19 recovery and beyond. 

Over 820 million people worldwide face hunger - including in Canada. Food insecurity is 74% higher in Indigenous communities than the rest of Canada, but Indigenous peoples are reclaiming their food systems and moving toward food sovereignty.

At 11, Zoe from Neyaashiinigmiing in Ontario has more experience than most in this fight. Firmly embedded in her Indigenous food traditions and heritage, Zoe has championed for food security and food sovereignty all of her life. From her Elders, she’s learned how to grow food and eat from the land, and leads her peers in tending the school orchard and produce garden. At 8, she started a toy business to support children in African countries who also face food insecurity, proving that children and youth can lead powerful change in their own communities and beyond.

We at Canadian Feed The Children have been honoured to watch Zoe grow over the years into the young leader she is today. Zoe challenges us all to think of how our small actions can make a big impact on achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger. Here is her story, in her own words.

A young girl eats a salad and smiles for the camera

2014: Zoe in Grade 1 enjoying a healthy meal at school.


My name is Zoe, I am eleven years old and I live in Neyaashiinigmiing (Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation). My community of Neyaashiinigmiing is one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever seen. Our land is covered with forests and a variety of wildlife. It’s really nice to go on nature walks on the bluffs and see wildflowers grow. Our community is filled with caring and loving people and I feel really safe living here.

We do face some challenges accessing healthy food. One challenge is that if people don’t have transportation, they can’t go to the grocery store to get food. Another challenge is financial difficulties. Some people don’t always have enough money to get the food that they need for themselves and their kids. Healthy foods seem to cost more, especially out of season. When you don’t have healthy food, you’re not getting all the vitamins and nutrients that you need to become strong and wise. Sometimes kids will come to school without healthy foods but they are always able to get healthy snacks like apples, carrots, cucumbers, oranges, cheese and whole wheat crackers or bread, if they need it.

A girl smiles for the camera holding a catalogue she made

2015: At age 8, Zoe started a Toy Emporium to raise funds to support children facing Food Security in African countries during the holidays

That’s why I’ve been proud to be a part of our school gardening program. It’s really great to see everybody come together and make something that we can all benefit from. I’ve also learned a lot about food that grows within our native lands. I enjoy harvesting wild foods like leeks, morels, puffballs and apples. I also like to go partridge hunting with my Papa. Sometimes, we are able to give some of the food that we’ve gathered to other people in the community. This makes me feel good about myself.


How can Neyaashiinigmiing’s traditional practices around food help re-establish food sovereignty in our community? When I first heard this question, I didn’t know what food sovereignty really meant. I had to research what the definition of that phrase means. I found the following: "Food Sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems."

Two girls pose with their seedings and star at their crops

2015: Zoe and a friend starting the school garden. Later in 015, Zoe observes the school garden's first harvest.

So, how can Neyaashiinigmiing’s traditional practices around food help to re-establish food sovereignty? – I’m not sure that I can really answer that right now.

After talking with my family, I understand that a lot of our community households used to have small farms that would help put food on the table for their families with maybe some extra food being sold for money (or even traded for other needed items). I know that hunting and fishing used to be done by a great majority of people so that they would have meat (along with a variety of fish - deer, rabbit and partridge were also eaten). Foraging and harvesting of foods like berries, mushrooms, fiddleheads and morels were also done by most families.

It’s sad to say that nowadays, not a lot of that is taking place. Do I think that we need to get back to more of those food practices? Absolutely! Is it going to be easy? No, it’s not. But we need to start somewhere and we need to start now.

A young girl poses with homemade Christmas ornaments

2016: At age 9, Zoe told us: “My one wish would be that every child in the world would have healthy food and clean water.” Pictured at her second holiday fundraiser.

That’s why it’s great to have opportunities in our Healthy Living Program, to learn how to grow food through our school gardens. We have also been taught how to forage and harvest wild foods responsibly in our own community. My Papa would say that when we are collecting food, that we should only take what we need. For example, if we come to a berry bush, we are only to take a small amount, keeping in mind that someone will always be coming behind us later on. That way, there will be berries for them when they come to the same berry bush. He would remind me that if the person before us cleared the entire bush of berries, then there would not have been any for us when we arrived. That’s a really great lesson for life.


A young girl smiling holding fresh leeks she picked from the garden

2017: Picking leeks for seniors in her community.

When looking at the Sustainable Development Goals, there are so many that I am drawn to. Of course, SDG 2: Zero Hunger and SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being are absolutely necessary. Every person needs “good” food in order to be healthy. Without a healthy mind and body, it’s difficult to live life to the fullest and to accomplish all that you need to.

I also feel that SDG 4: Quality Education is extremely important. I know that there are children in the world that can’t go to school because their families don’t have the money to send them or maybe because the kids are forced to work instead. This is really upsetting! Every person should have the opportunity to get a quality education.

SDG 13: Climate Action. We had a local fisherman come in and talk with us about how the changes in climate forced him to leave his fishing business. He said that in past years, there might have been one day a week when he couldn’t fish because of high winds. Recently, there are often four to five days when weather makes it impossible to fish safely. This was shocking to hear.


I think it’s important for young people to become involved in leading change because sometimes adults don’t think about the value of making a better community for the future. It’s also important for young people to learn how to plant and harvest food for themselves. If they keep learning and practicing how to plant, grow and harvest, eventually it will become a habit for them to do these things. Then, hopefully, they will pass it on to their children and those children will pass it on to their children – and so on.

A young girl speaking at a school event

2017: Zoe speaking at a school event. From OCIC’s Transformations 2018 (photo: Allan Lissner/OCIC

At school, we have started a recycling program in each classroom and every student has also started to use “feast bags” (a bag with a reusable plate, bowl, cup and cutlery) that can be used at community gatherings where meals are being served. Even these two actions are helping to reduce the amount of waste that is going into the earth. I know that we are influencing our families and community too because the students go home and tell everyone what needs to be done to help. We’re leading by example and want to learn more about what we can do to make positive change.


My Auntie says that it can be discouraging when we look at the mountain of change that needs to take place around us in the world. However, she says that each one of us must also look to ourselves and ask, “What am I doing to help heal the earth? Am I contributing to the problem or the solution?”

A young girl plants a tree in a forest

2017: Tending an apple tree in the orchard. From OCIC’s Transformations 2018 (photo: Allan Lissner/OCIC

If you are not sure where to start, you can support organizations like Canadian Feed The Children, who help provide funding for communities like ours so that we can continue to grow and make healthy changes. You can also look at your life and see if there are areas where you can make changes that will have a positive influence in your own communities.


A girl proudly smiles into the camera

2020: Zoe today

I just want to thank Canadian Feed the Children for supporting our Healthy Living Program for so many years. We have been able to accomplish so much in our school and community because of you and all your faithful donors! Chi-miigwetch!