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Learning Circles: Local Healthy Foods to School Initiative Expands to Four Indigenous Communities

What do Little Black River, Manitoba; Ministikwan, Saskatchewan; Hazelton, BC; and Haida Gwaii, BC all have in common? All four communities are implementing Learning Circles in order to increase capacity for more local, healthy, and traditional foods in schools.

The three-year project is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) through its Pathways to Health Equity for Aboriginal Peoples initiative. This project is intended to build on the successes and lessons of the Learning Circle on Haida Gwaii that “grew” out of work with the Nourishing School Communities initiative (funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and supported by Farm to Cafeteria Canada). Supporting communities to develop their own ways of strengthening a culture of healthy local food in schools is the primary aim of the Local Healthy Foods to School partnerships.

Through Learning Circles, community members from diverse backgrounds come together to collectively develop a common vision and achievable goals for promoting holistic wellbeing through local food in schools. Learning Circle members explore the local food systems, identify barriers and opportunities, and prioritize actions to make local, healthy, traditional, and sustainable foods more available and accessible to students.

A Learning Circle provides an opportunity for Learning Circle members to share knowledge, skills, and resources to strengthen local food systems within school food programs and learning environments. In each community, a local learning circle evaluation facilitator supports the Learning Circle to discover what works well as the model is adapted to reflect the needs of each community involved.

Learning Circles: Local healthy foods to school initiative expands to four Indigenous communitiesLearning Circles: Local Healthy Foods to School (LC:LHF2S) is based on our shared desire to learn from each other and build partnerships by working together in a respectful way. LC:LHF2S activities are shaped by each community for the benefit of the community and share the following values: 

  • Focus on the health of children – and the health of generations to come;
  • Honour the value of foods from the land or waters and their holistic importance to health and wellness; and,
  • Support students’ connection with foods from the land and waters around their communities and nearby places.

The project team includes the following local and national partners:

  • Local Learning Circle advisors who represent each community;
  • Partners from local organizations (including Northern Health, Secretariat of the Haida Nation, School District 50, Old Masset Village Council, Gitksan Government Commission, Storytellers’ Foundation, Meadow Lake Tribal Council, Island Lake Health Centre,  Black River First Nation, and Food Matters Manitoba);
  • Pathways PEKEs (Partners for Engagement and Knowledge Exchange), including Native Women’s Association of Canada and First Nations Health & Social Secretariat of Manitoba;
  • National partners including Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, and Farm to Cafeteria Canada; and,
  • Partners from universities including the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, University of Waterloo, and University of New Brunswick.

Given the unique characteristics of each participating community, we are excited to learn together how the Learning Circle model evolves in each community and how the model works to bring people together to transform food environments, enhance wellness, and strengthen students’ connection to the land, water and food environments in Indigenous communities.

LC:LHF2S is also providing a valuable opportunity for partners from outside organizations to learn from communities as they identify their needs and goals and to understand how we need to adapt our processes to  better support Indigenous communities.

Submitted by: Barbara Zupko, Propel Centre, University of Waterloo

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