INDIGENOUS FOOD SOVEREIGNTY
OCT 13th and 14th, Tkaronto Islands
In silence, people arrived at the Ferry Station, transparent calmed turquoise waters of the lake showed me in the left side an island of pristine forests, and on the right side the city of Toronto, tall well designed buildings, why humans turn life into squares? I had no longer time to think because It was a very short trip. One circle inside for the conferences, and one sacred fire outside.
Water was the first element that came in the room, the first prayer and acknowledgment, it is not a surprise, despite the diversity and multiculturalism of the group, we were 90% water, and water present in life, agriculture, and in our food.
Food sovereignty is a colonized concept itself said Perry Mc Lead, “it is more about remembering our way of living” That's how indigenous have survived for thousand of years.
Joseph Leblanc proposed that is important recover the control of our households, as a way to achieve our sustainability, but also the need to diversify the source of our food to break the dependence the government, connect with the traditionals ways of haunt and farm as a way to awake the memory. “Capital seems so big, but it hasn't being here forever and we can change the way we do things” it is necessary to tweak the current context.
The big change starts from the small, remembering the importance of the corn , squash and beans that provide the basic nutrients to live, and the importance of fish, meat, fish and duck.
Many of the speakers marked the importance of the memory, learning and following sacred protocols when planting the seeds, harvesting, and cooking this meals in our tables. Chandra remind us that the food is itself a language that speaks back to the spirits. Do we sing the right songs while planting our seeds or harvesting? She asked. The sacred protocols are a way of Dignity, respect and diplomacy.
Perry McLead invited us to know the plants well, to understand that they have family, friends, enemies and protectors, that is important to explain to the spirits why do you need to collect those plant, or why do you need to harvest an animal, and if you talk with good intentions and make the offering well (could be with salmon) the animals will offer themselves, will pause and give you the opportunity to shoot them. Diplomacy to not disturb a plant while is sleeping, or to thank the plants by spreading their seeds.
This protocols of respect for nature and food, are missed on the western culture, and got worse after the establishment of capitalism and agro industry, where the food and elements are not sacred anymore but a commodity that can be manipulated, controlled without any consideration.
The economy needs to be redesigned, for this is necessary to have awareness of what catolicism, capitalism, colonialism did to the indigenous communities: Criminalization of indigenous people in the cities, lack of work opportunities, expensive cost of living in the northern territories, disconnection from the traditional foods, health issues related to bad nutrition habits. The speakers shared their projects and initiatives.
James Whetung awaked the sleep memory of the wild rice, that disappeared after the inmobiliary development, tourism, and hidro industry. James traveled to a far community to learn how to harvest and prepare the wild rice, and was able to plant the wild rice on the lakes were he lives. This action was controversial, because the owners of the cottages saw wild rice as a bad weed. The action of “doing what you have to do” was positive in the rescue o the memory, the culture, and also was a political statement. James also questioned the concept of food sovereignty, for him Food Security makes more sense.
Now a days it is normal that the financing of the projects comes from a outsider organization, Joseph Leblanc critiqued the dependence of funding, and how this forces local groups to stick to the founders objectives and timelines. As an alternative he proposes Live Projects to put the focus in sustaining life and place the needs of the communities first, the challenge is to make the allies organizations to accept this priorities and understand that sometimes projects are difficult to measure - from a western point of view- and he talked about the importance of taking action with the resources that are available.
Perry Mc Lead agreed that the projects have to solve the need of the communities, and he shared the experience of a project that started with only a few resources. The purpose of the project was to teach the youth how to harvest their meat, also how to prepare the meat and how to cook in the traditional way, respecting all the sacred protocols and the rools as a way to promote the food sustainability of their communities, stop the dependency from food banks, awaking the memory. After starting the project now the allie organizations can understand the project and they have more financing. Perry insist in the approach of “doing it and see what happens”
During the two days of the gathering we could learn about different projects going on on the province of Ontario: The Chef Johl Whiteduck Ringuette is envisioning to create a district in Toronto to unite different clans and open more working opportunities for the indigenous and help to solve the social issues of indigenous living in the city. Joe is organizing a intensive plant training for indigenous communities, to rescue the traditional medicine he learned from his grandmother. Nikky is rescuing ancestral corn seeds, and it is a part of a community project to reproduce other seeds with the purpose of sharing them with other communities.
This encounters are important to create networks, learn about strategies and unify communities.
From my perspective as an observer I can find a similarity with the cultural recovery the costa rican indigenous communities that are recovering their memory, their language and their songs. But the cultural breakdown caused by residential schools in Canada cannot be compared. Water privatization reflects the lack of respect for the earth and the elements, and communities of north, latin america and the world experience similar environmental fights, will be positive to find ways to exchange experiences and strategies to defend water and life.
As a graduate student I can easily tend to intellectualize my thoughts in food sovereignty and this is not a theoretical matter, it is about the struggle and resilience of people that are finding their own solutions. The privilege of listening the speakers allowed me to see the importance of the praxis, the “doing what you have to do” approach in the construction of the solutions.
But who is going to produce all this food? Dianne -organic farmer asked me-, in the meeting with over 80 people, she only crossed with 4 farmers.
In a circle, the fire keepers offered tobacco to the sacred fire, thanking the spirits for their presence, but it is time for each to return home, same with us. I bring with me conversations, more understanding of the context or the country I will live during the school year, and a deep respect for the indigenous people that are keeping their memory alive.