May 22, 2012

United Nations has no Appetite for the State of Hunger among Indigenous communities in Canada

The price of milk in Attawapiskat First  Nation

By Lyndsay Mollins Koene

"… the situation of Aboriginal peoples in Canada raises specific concerns"  says the UN SpecialRapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter while visiting Canada on May 16, 2012.

Not long ago, while in Kashachewan First Nations, an isolated First Nation along the James Bay Coast, I was working with a woman who wanted to try a new recipe, but noted that her family was very diabetic.  I offered up a recipe of my own, chicken legs, tomatoes, and rice.  Together we shopped for the ingredients at the only store in the community, and for her family of six, spent close to $70 on this meal.

A recent visit from De Schutter called for changes to the way First Nations access food.  The first of these would be a reform of the Nutrition North Canada program that subsidizes retailers to serve remote communities. He then called for a structural approach to tackling the socio-economic and cultural barriers to opportunities for those living on reserves that result in their not enjoying fully their right to adequate food. Finally, De Schutter notes that neither the federal Government nor the provinces consider that they have a responsibility to support off-reserve Aboriginal peoples in overcoming the structural discrimination they face; often leading to poverty.
“In our community, 4 liters of milk costs us $15. Our kids watch the milk commercial on the television that tells them to drink milk to help build young bones and teeth, and our families are unable to afford it. I feel that this basic need is being denied our children.” Chief Donny Morris, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (Big Trout Lake)
The First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey (RHS 2008/10) indicates that 17.8% of First Nation adults aged 25-39 and 16.1% of First Nation adults aged 40-54 reported being hungry but did not eat due to lack of money for food. Comparably, only 7.7% of Canadian households were considered food insecure during 2007-2008.

Bananas at $6.15 kg in Kashachewan First Nation
De Schutter concluded his United Nations visit by sharing the following insights:  “What I’ve seen in Canada is a system that presents barriers and for the poor to access nutritious diets and that tolerates increased inequalities between rich and poor, and Aboriginal non-Aboriginal peoples.”

Mennonite Central Committee in Ontario continues to work in partnership with First Nations communities in the Far North, with the goal being sustainable and nutritious options.  Whether it is connecting local farmers in Timmins, Ontario to Health Services in Attawapiskat, or connecting St. Jacobs Mennonite Church to the King Fisher Lakes community garden, both are working, through community leadership, to access sustainable food.  

Lyndsay Mollins Koene is MCCO's Aboriginal Neighbours Coordinator

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