When considering common language, we often think of the words we use in our everyday conversations within our distinctive regions – language holds our stories, that have been with our families and cultures since time immemorial and will continue to grow and shape our cultures into the generations ahead. However, we may not think about the rich diversity of Indigenous language groups, the people so rich with lived experience, in the various provinces and territories with whom we share the land. 

In BC, Kathleen Yung, a Specialist, in Healthy Eating and Food Security with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), along with consultants Fiona Devereaux, Dietitian and Indigenous anti-racism Facilitator, and Professional Chef Jared Qwustenuxun Williams, both from Qwustenuxun Consulting, took a decolonizing lens to the importance of identifying the common terms used in their work and collaborated on this project to facilitate the development of the Common Language toolkit. You can check out the report here and the webinar recording here.

The process of developing this toolkit focused on exploring four specific food-related words: Traditional foods, Food Security, Nutrition and Medicine. These words are widely used in food systems, healthcare, schools, and other areas impacting a significant portion of the population. The initiative aimed to “unearth colonial thinking, identify potential gaps and highlight unchecked bias”, ultimately fostering a deeper understanding of these terms from an Indigenous lens and a regional community perspective. The team grounded the context of the terms and delved into the layers of their meanings, shedding light on their significance in a comprehensive manner.

Not only is preserving language important but understanding the words being used with each other and the impact they may have on different worldviews is critically important.

Indigenous languages are not only methods of communication, but also extensive and complex systems of knowledge that have developed over millennia. They are central to the identity of indigenous peoples, the preservation of their cultures, worldviews and visions and an expression of self-determination. When indigenous languages are under threat, so too are indigenous peoples themselves. (UNDRIP)

In their beautifully visual document, the authors of this toolkit guide us through the four essential terms and their journey to build a pathway upholding cultural safety and humility in their lifelong learning. The engagement process comes across as thoughtful and critical. 

The conversations spoke about highly used terms like food sovereignty and food security brought to light phrases such as food independence, centring self-determination, community access and protecting the ecosystems all around us.

Very much like the need in school food programs, those who were a part of this process reflected, in terms of food security, “How can we do good work if we are hungry?” (FNHA, p.5) There is the notion of traditional foods “evolving and changing by the impact of new ingredients and methods” (p.7) and the connections to their food stories since time immemorial. 

The impacts of colonialism have created a rippling impact on Indigenous foodways and the authors shared that terms like “nutrition, [are] rooted in trauma”. (p.9) Also, on the note of nutrition was the gentrification of food as a barrier to affording these foods for Indigenous people, as it has become hard to source and expensive to purchase.

Relating to the term medicine, traditional medicine is something sacred to our stories, our relationship to the land and our cultures. It is often taught that “food is medicine” which is a shared teaching amongst many cultures. (pg. 16) What we harvest or cook, with positive intention, comes out in the spirit of these foods.

It is essential to hear these words to their depth when they are brought into the conversation, to bring reconciliation and reciprocity to relationship building and to further a greater understanding of the impacts these words have on Elders and community members around so-called Canada. This understanding can also help with our unlearning journey, including elements in unearthing colonial thinking and acknowledging the unheard meanings immersed within our connection to these terms and when we use and hear these terms.

We are inspired by this beautiful and thoughtfully created resource and grateful for all those who contributed to it and made it broadly accessible. We encourage you to explore it, reflect on the knowledge and wisdom shared within and consider what different food and food systems terms hold for you and your school community. 

You can check out the report here and the webinar recording here:

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