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Exploring our Wickedest Question of All | Supporting Indigenous Food Sovereignty Efforts on Unceded Land

Our Community of Practice isn’t shy about naming and working through the tensions in our food systems and movement work. In fact, this can be one of the most critical functions of any CoP. 

It was almost a year ago that we had this conversation where we came up with 3 Wicked Questions in BC food work. The wickedest of them all; How can we simultaneously support Indigenous food sovereignty efforts while working on unceded territories within colonial structures?

 

Smoked Salmon - Indigenous Food Conference

 

The CoP is building our understanding of the devastating and ongoing impacts of colonization — including agriculture — on Indigenous food systems and traditional land governance. And so, to open our January conversation we read and reflected on the 20/20 Vision articulated by the Wild Salmon Caravan and Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty (WGIFS): Vision Rooted in Indigenous Ecological Knowledge and Social Justice.  

 

Our work centers the health and well-being of all life, including salmon, moose, elk and other people, plants and animals we rely on for our food,” said Dawn Morrison, Founder/Curator of the WGIFS. “The best way we can defend our grandchildren’s future is to protect, conserve and restore the health of the forests, fields and waterways where we hunt, fish, farm and gather our food,” she added.

This is just an excerpt. We invite you to read the vision in full – even out loud as we did in our CoP conversation – and join us in reflecting on whose knowledge we are centring in our food systems work. 

 

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We were delighted to have CoP member Aaren Topley co-facilitate January’s conversation with us. Up until recently, Aaren was the co-chair of the Victoria Urban Food Table (VUFT), an advisory body and food policy council to the City of Victoria, and currently works for the Public Health Association of BC managing Can You Dig It (CYDI), a provincial community garden program. He is no stranger to holding space for both tensions and opportunities as someone who researches, advocates, and supports community growing initiatives on the homelands of the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations while fostering his understanding of what it means to work as a white settler.

Aaren shared VUFT’s work to survey food grown on private land in Victoria on the homelands of the Lekwungen people (now known as the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations) and talked about the complexities of supporting municipal government staff who manage community gardens in his role with CYDI. As others will be able to relate, community gardens can be locations of tension, along with all the beautiful connections that happen as neighbours grow food side by side. Aaren walked us through some of what he’s witnessing:

 

“I do believe in naming the tension — If racism, ableism, classism exist within a neighbourhood, then the community gardens within the neighbourhood are likely to also exhibit these tensions. The systems change required is complex. Community gardens can be spaces that encourage inclusive neighbourhoods and build community, but we need to address these tensions at all levels. 

Accountability and transparency is an important piece to this puzzle, coming in and shaking out policy or kicking out coordinators and gardeners isn’t a solution. We need to hold space for education and transformation from the grassroots level to municipal policy. So the question is, how do we help coordinators and gardeners along in their journey? What are the policies and practices we need to ensure community gardens are inclusive community building spaces?”

 

Aaren’s learning journey and ability to name and hold these tensions is anchored in the decolonization, anti-Indigenous racism, and unpacking white privilege work underway in the food movement. Three years ago, he began a learning journey that included participating in the Kairos Blanket Exercise and a Community of Practice co-facilitated by Fiona Devereaux, a white settler of Irish Ancestry from Island Health, for other white settlers working in food systems.  She says “We collectively worked together to hold each other accountable  and to create space and opportunity for Indigenous leadership and ideas.” 

The goal was to create learning and unlearning opportunities to engage in deep critical self-reflection on white power and privilege in collaboration with San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training of the Provincial Health Services Authority. Aaren reflects:

We learned together how we’re part of a system that benefits people with white skin. I started to consider that maybe the way I’ve been doing this work over the past decade has perpetuated harm and certain inequalities. For many of us this has radically shifted the way we do our work.

 

Aaren’s openness set the table for the rest of the CoP to discuss some of the tensions and contradictions they are also holding in relation to land governance and local government process in agriculture and Indigenous Food Sovereignty.

CoP participants Carole Hebden and Sandra Frangiadakis, Chair and Community Food Action Lead respectively, of the Kamloops Food Policy Council have been participating in workshops on white supremacy in the food system and the Decolonizing Research and Relationships: Cross Cultural Framework, led by Dawn Morrison and WGIFS.  

They shared a story  from just east of Kamloops, in Secwepemculew,  where a cherry orchard is being installed on the South Thompson river. It got approved through all the local government processes. No Indigenous consent was sought or needed. A sensitive bank was bulldozed to access irrigation and interrupted ancient movement patterns of deer and increased sediment runoff into the Thompson River impacting migrating wild salmon and returning fry. While Indigenous hunters are expected to go to individual settler farms to seek permission to hunt, a project that destroys a major deer corridor on unceded land does not reciprocate permission-seeking from those whose land they’re on.

We work with wicked questions to name the paradoxes we work in- the  tensions between accepted approaches and actual circumstances. We came into this conversation askingHow can we simultaneously support Indigenous food sovereignty efforts while working on unceded territories within colonial structures?” and this led to more questions that begin to suggest valuable strategies for our work. 

How are we — as both a CoP and broader movement of people and organizations working in food — responding to the call to “centre Indigenous ecological knowledge, wisdom and values”?

How can local and regenerative agriculture complement indigenous food sovereignty?

Can we build relationships with not just local municipal governments, but band councils, traditional Indigenous governance and grassroots communities?

How will we do this in ways that de-centres and unpacks white privilege and settler colonialism? 

What stories will we hear, acknowledge, and act on?

 

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At the time of writing this post we want to acknowledge the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are asserting jurisdiction on their traditional territories and the solidarity actions unfolding around the country.  The Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty has shared a Solidarity Statement with the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en

“As the oldest living memory of what it means to live with dignity in right relationship in their lands and waters, we are deeply grateful for the leadership being shown by the Hereditary Chiefs and Matriarchs who are upholding the sacred responsibilities encoded within their original instructions, to ensure the health and integrity of their land, water, cultures/languages and present and future generations.”