This year’s BC Food Systems Network (BCFSN) Gathering brought together 123 participants, plus children, to the En’owkin Centre on Syilx land near Penticton, BC. The theme of this year’s gathering, the network’s 18th annual, was Reconciling Cultures and Re-connecting Foodscapes and marked the 10th anniversary of the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty. The Gathering was an opportunity for various cultures to come together with the Syilx and other Indigenous people to explore what it means to truly reconcile with the first peoples and to honour the lands and waters that are so vital to our food systems and community well-being.
Participants were welcomed to Syilx territory and the En’owkin Centre with prayers and songs, by elders, En’owkin staff, and Penticton Indian Band Chief Jonathan Kruger. En’owkin elder Richard Armstrong and staff Tracey Kim Bonneau taught participants to introduce themselves in Sylix and count to 10, learning both the words and accompanying hand gestures. Gathering participants were also invited to attend the Powwow Saturday night, the first on Penticton band land since the 1970’s. Abra Brynne, Director of Engagement and Policy for the BCFSN and Coordinator of this year’s Gathering notes,
“We’ve learned over the 18 years of the gathering that the experience of place is really important in deepening our understanding — and a lot of that isn’t necessarily explicit, but it happens because we are in that place and experience what the soil is like, the topography, how the air feels, the weather. In addition to the amazing cultural centre that the En’owkin centre is, the experiences of the land, language and culture couldn’t help but contribute to us doing some great learning together — without someone talking at us.”
Many sessions explored the range of food systems work across BC, from advancing municipal food policy and growing local food economies, to strengthening community resilience through gleaning, growing and sharing food, to one exploring collective action through partnerships between communities and their local colleges and universities. Others focused on the efforts to grow a more resilient and fair agricultural system with sessions on migrant farm labour, permaculture and edible forest gardening, bio-regional farming, and seed security education.
Sessions on the Wild Salmon Caravan, on revitalizing traditional trade networks, and one in the form of a tea party/public intervention brought opportunities to reflect on the theme of the gathering and to learn and organize in that spirit. Plenaries included a youth panel from East Vancouver and an in-depth exploration of the Dane-zaa Cree food system along the Peace River. Network elders who died this past year, Cathleen Kneen and Wolverine, whose deep influence and support of the network and the Working Group on Indigenous Food Systems, were mourned and honoured with ceremony.
Gathering participants were also invited to experience and learn about the efforts to restore and revitalize food systems on Sylix land.
“Indigenous people have had foodways, as well as cultural and spiritual ways that engage with the land and water, forever. Ways that nourish them physically, spiritually and culturally. To talk only about agricultural lands misses a huge perspective as well as possibility. We have to recognize that people in this place, as well as around the world for thousand of years subsisted perfectly fine, thank-you very much, without agriculture,” says Brynne.
Participants toured the Okanagan Fisheries Alliance work dedicated to the conservation, protection, restoration, and enhancement of indigenous fisheries. Others were guided on a walk at the ECOmmunity Place, located on a 100 hectare site located on the West side of the Okanagan River Floodplain, which preserves and protects the Indigenous plants, wildlife, culture and spirituality found on the land. Sylix elder, scholar and activist Jeanette Armstrong spoke to the critical work participants were doing on reconciling food systems and water relationships in the opening plenary and in a session.
Brynne feels that this year’s Gathering helped advance the thinking and practice of the Network, explaining “We achieved a lot of what we were trying to do which was draw attention to questions and our responsibilities to Indigenous people who were on this land before of us, particularly here in BC where the vast majority of the land is unceded and never covered by any kind of treaty. I think we got a lot more people thinking about it and hopefully curious enough to further educate themselves about those issues. That was a big goal of mine personally for the gathering.” She notes, however, that’s there’s lots to be learned across all of our cultures and the intention is to have a more fulsome cross-cultural dialogue at next year’s gathering.
For many gathering participants this experience of Sylix hospitality, culture, land,and language opened possibilities for how we think about our food systems, and in its broadest sense, our health. Brynne explains that this is at the heart of the personal and collective work of decolonization,
“Indigenous people have such a profound responsibility of care, of stewardship of the land and all the other beings on this land..this points to a way that could lead us all back to something healthier on this planet, with the land, with other beings and with each other.”
For more information:
- BC Food Systems Network– The 2016 gathering report will be posted here, upon release.
- Indigneous Food Systems Network
- BCFSN Decolonization Pledge
- En’owkin Centre
- ECOmmunity Place Locatee Lands Project
- Okanagan Nation Alliance and Okanagan Fisheries & Aquatics
- Jeanette Armstrong on EN’OWKIN: WHAT IT MEANS TO A SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY
- Abra Brynne’s Plenary Talk at the Gathering
- Decolonizing food systems: A journey into an uncomfortable but necessary place by Abra Brynne