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Nourishing Relations Indigenous school communities and a local food to school approach
Local food to school initiatives are being adopted with a lot of enthusiasm from coast to coast to coast because of their potential to improve student nutrition and food literacy while contributing to vibrant, sustainable regional food systems, climate change mitigation and Indigenous food systems.

About Nourishing Relations

Graphic Recording: Tiaré Lani
Farm to Cafeteria Canada (F2CC) supports school communities to foster vibrant school food systems that engage students in eating, preparing, harvesting, growing, and embracing healthy local food. Through these activities students connect with their broader communities and develop food literacy, all while strengthening regional food systems. F2CC typically refers to this as the “farm to school” or “local food to school” approach.

This approach can complement the work of those who are bringing traditional Indigenous foodways into schools. F2CC has funded many projects where, from remote communities to urban centres, educators including Elders and Knowledge Keepers are teaching about food and traditional food systems and are incorporating traditional foods, practices and traditions throughout the school day. See Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay Secondary School, Masset BC’s story and learn about other schools that are integrating Indigenous foodways.

We are proud of what we have enabled so far; however, we know that we need to do much more to better honour the Indigenous peoples, histories and lands on which we all live today.

F2CC has been working within our own team to envision how our mandate, operations and institution can better include, reflect, honour and amplify Indigenous voices, perspectives, values, and ways of knowing. We are doing this with the spirit of nourishing relations. 

About our Virtual Sharing Circles

Graphic Recording: Tiaré Lani
In February and March 2021, F2CC and its partners hosted 3 virtual sharing circles facilitated by Alderhill, an Indigenous owned and operated company of leading experts in Indigenous community planning.

The objectives of these sharing circles were:

  1. To hear from Indigenous school communities and/or those who work directly with Indigenous school communities about their vision for food sovereignty projects and what barriers exist to reaching these visions.
  2. To provide a platform for Indigenous school communities to connect and learn from one another.

Each of the regional sessions began with an introduction and a warm welcome from the facilitators. Participants were invited to introduce themselves and share stories of learning, prosperity challenges and resiliency within their community’s school food initiatives. 

The F2CC team sought guidance on how to improve grant accessibility for Indigenous communities; how to expand resources and support systems to honour Indigenous food systems, knowledge and values; and how to foster deeper connections amongst Indigenous school communities.

The sessions closed with a presentation of the graphic recording from the discussions, summarizing the time spent together. We thank Tiaré Lani and Carina Nilsson for their graphical recordings of the event. All of the images featured on this web page come from their recordings of our time together.

Graphic Recording: Tiaré Lani

Sharing Circle Overview – Who Came?

The BC and Saskatchewan engagement session was held on February 9, 2021, and had eight Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants. The cross-regional engagement session on February 25, 2021, had three participants. Both of these sessions were hosted by F2CC’s Claudia Páez and Alderhill’s Jessie Hemphill. 

Fourteen youth participated in the March 6, 2021 youth session, along with a few adult youth workers. This session was hosted by Alderhill’s facilitator, Kyle Alec, and F2CC’s co-facilitator, Jyotika Dangwal. 

Stories of Prosperity

Participants shared their community’s local food to school initiatives at each of the sessions. These included stories about medicinal plant gardens, food preservation, fruit trees, greenhouses, Elders and Knowledge Holders, salmon-bearing springs, teaching the local Indigenous language, and field trips to nearby farms.
Graphic Recording: Tiaré Lani

Several participants spoke of land-based learning as being foundational to good, meaningful food education. Some organizations are bringing students onto the land for field trips with a focus on stewardship, harvesting, and learning about traditional plants, animals, and medicines. In one community, students go on field trips to harvest traps. For many students who don’t fit into the traditional academic box, these opportunities boost their identity and confidence.

Stories of Celebration and Healing

Graphic Recording: Tiaré Lani
Participants discussed ceremony as a key component of celebrating food and food systems, and of healing. By hosting ceremonies, communities can move forward in a “good way” and work through traumas together. Further, by celebrating food and culture through story-telling, Indigenous cultural practices will start to be revitalized.

It was mentioned by a participant and reiterated by facilitator Jessie Hemphill that “food brings folks from all walks of life together” and “even if there are divides, food is a great way in which we can bridge those divides.”

Stories from Youth

Youth participants shared stories about chicken tending, community gardens, berry-picking vouchers, fishery rehabilitation, permaculture in grade 6/7 classes, and about hunters and harvesters providing food for Elders during the pandemic.

Graphic Recording: Carinna Nilsson

Participants expressed the value of bringing youth and Elders together to share stories and build skills around food provision and food security. Participants deeply wanted to learn the skills needed to connect with the land. Youth workers also wanted to engage youth, as the next generation, to pass on this knowledge. Participants agreed that programs that bring Indigenous communities together through food production and sharing are extremely valuable for Indigenous youth and the greater community. 

Intergenerational learning opportunities were celebrated by participants. Participants shared that communities can increasingly know themselves and move forward in a good way by using food and food systems to create relationship-building and educational opportunities between generations.

Stories Shared with Youth

During the youth session Ryan Day, former chief of Bonaparte Indian Band and traditional food practitioner, shared his journey in reclaiming traditional food practices; for himself, for his community, and for the sake of Indigenous food sovereignty.

He emphasized a number of key points:

In order to get to the root of Indigenous liberation, you need to:

  1. Go back to your homelands
  2. Talk to Elders
  3. Start learning the language of your people
  4. Get to know your land and have a relationship with your land
  5. Practice ceremony and your peoples’ songs

Ryan grew up hunting and fishing but learned additional practices from relatives and friends from various Secwepemc communities and attending camps. Ryan explained that by reclaiming the relationship with the land and participating in land-based practices, Indigenous peoples can reclaim their identities and educate others about maintaining a healthy and respectful relationship with the ecosystem.

Stories of Challenges

Participants shared that for many communities, it is an every-day challenge to provide enough food for families and community-members. Hunting and foraging can support food security and respond to climate emergencies. However, red tape like safety protocols and colonial boundaries reduce Indigenous peoples’ ability to hunt and forage, as well as to teach students Indigenous food practices like hunting, skinning animals, and other land-based practices.

Participants shared how grant-writing, teaching, gardening, and providing hot lunches for students all take a lot of time. Communicating between Nations, schools, or groups about best practices in programming is another area that can be time-consuming. 

Some organizations spoke about how they need more support to get past regulatory roadblocks or capacity challenges to make land-based learning a reality.

Graphic Recording: Tiaré Lani

Participants also shared that western ideas influence youth and reduce their desire or willingness to participate in hunting and foraging. For example, there is sometimes a sense that Indigenous foods like “country meat” are “less than” settler foods, creating a roadblock in trying to develop traditional, healthy and sustainable eating practices in schools and communities.

Participants spoke about how it can be difficult for youth to learn traditional practices in a western school setting or when far from home.

Concerns about the “Farm to School” Term

Participants shared that the history of colonialism and the impact of farming (giving Indigenous lands to settlers to farm) makes the “farm” part challenging for the term “Farm to School” to resonate with Indigenous communities.

Graphic Recordings: Tiaré Lani

Recommendations for F2CC – Support Conversations and Connection

Participants shared that they believe that there is a role for F2CC to support Indigenous communities with this work: to enable networking and relationship building, storytelling, connection and funding so that people who are looking to integrate Indigenous foodways and healthy, local foods into their school communities have more resources and connections to do so.

Participants shared many specific recommendations for F2CC to support this work: 

  • Develop communications toolkits for community leaders to liaise with other key community members. 
  • Continue to hold conversations and space so that people can build relationships, share how they have overcome challenges, and share resources and stories with each other.
  • Provide support to facilitate conversations (note-taking, back-office supports).
  • Provide an accessible community of practice to share stories and resources.
  • Establish Indigenous liaisons to ensure cultural sensitivity and appropriate sharing of Indigenous knowledge with school programs.

Recommendations for F2CC – Support Capacity

  • Support schools’ activities: Help bring youth on field trips to teach them traditional hunting and land-based practices; Help bring traditional food provision, storage, and protocols into schools; Continue to rebuild traditional knowledge among youth; Support intergenerational learning opportunities; Start food security and land-based education from birth; help infuse it back into culture; Foster children’s ability to be change-makers and to educate their families.
  • Help navigate red tape to provide traditional learning opportunities.
  • Support Indigenous knowledge holders with payment and good protocols.
  • Provide a database of funding opportunities and share opportunities on social media.
  • Provide flexible and accessible granting opportunities that are suited to Indigenous schools and communities.
Graphic Recording: Carina Nilsson

Recommendations for F2CC – Move Forward in an Appropriate Way

Participants encouraged F2CC to:
  • Graphic Recording: Tiaré Lani
    Build relationships over time to avoid simply extracting information when needed.
  • Recognize the diversity between different Indigenous groups and their food practices.

Participants recommended that F2CC hire an Indigenous person onto their team and expressed that for programs to be successful, Indigenous leadership needs to be present. 

Everyone appreciated the opportunity to connect, share, and learn about each others’ efforts and experiences.

Moving Forward

Graphic Recording: Tiaré Lani
Partnerships are at the core of F2CC’s values. We want to work with Indigenous communities to help advance dreams of connecting children, youth and other community members to their food; whether it comes from community gardens, freshwater or ocean shores, forests, or farmers’ fields. We commit to centring food sovereignty, Indigenous food systems, and community impact in our work and to working together towards realizing these dreams in a respectful, honest, humble and reciprocal way.

We recognize that community members are the experts; they know what their communities need most. But they don’t always have the tools to get there, and that’s where F2CC can come in.

As we close this first phase of our journey, we would like to acknowledge that F2CC and its Canada Digs In! partners, as settler organizations, have been privileged to be afforded the support and resources to undertake this work.

Next Steps

Graphic Recording: Tiaré Lani
Looking to the next phase of this journey, we know that it is one not to be measured in months, but years and perhaps even decades. As first steps, we’re committed to:
  • Working towards building and strengthening relationships with Indigenous people in communities, and curating a space to amplify and celebrate Indigenous voices
  • Critically examining and adapting our key messaging to better reflect and resonate with Indigenous people and communities 
  • Evaluating and adapting internal processes, including grant application and reporting, to be more available and accessible to Indigenous communities
  • Holding a welcoming, respectful, safe and supportive space for Indigenous people within our team and advisory council
  • Continued learning about our settler privilege and working towards dismantling systems of oppression
  • Not only reflecting on this continued journey, but actively monitoring our progress on our goals, and holding ourselves accountable to them

Final reflections

We are committed to allowing the time and space to do this work meaningfully and to do our best to remain open, patient and humble. We know that we will make mistakes along the way and we are committed to listening and learning from these.
Graphic Recording: Tiaré Lani

We would like to express our utmost gratitude to the Alderhill team for their collaboration over the past six months, for seeing potential in F2CC and the work that we do, and for setting the tone and helping to provide a strong foundation for our reconciliation journey. 

Lastly, we wish to thank the community members including the many Indigenous youth who participated in and informed this process, as well as those who expressed interest but did not have the capacity at the time. 

We are committed to continuing to support opportunities for sharing and learning as we continue on this journey together to nourish relations.

About Farm to Cafeteria Canada

Farm to Cafeteria Canada (F2CC) is a pan-Canadian partnership-based organization whose vision is vibrant and sustainable regional food systems that support the health of people, place and planet. Our organization is built upon relationships and, together with our partners, we collaborate to educate, build capacity, strengthen partnerships, and influence policy to bring local, healthy, and sustainable foods to public spaces. F2CC is proud to be a leader in the national farm to school movement, connecting children and youth to their food, their environments and their communities.

F2CC is a settler-led organization. Since 2011 when we were established, F2CC has committed to recognize and support Indigenous food systems in our funded projects and food literacy activities. To date, through the Farm to School: Canada Digs In! initiative, we have given grants of up to $10,000 to 120 schools in Canada, of which 17 schools across the provinces and territories of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nunavut and Ontario have self-identified as Indigenous or as having strong connections to Indigenous communities.

Land acknowledgement
Graphic Recording: Tiaré Lani

Farm to Cafeteria Canada’s team and project partners acknowledge that we live, work and play on the ancestral lands of the diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis people of what we now call Canada. Farm to Cafeteria Canada is committed to reflecting, honouring and amplifying Indigenous voices, perspectives and values in our work. To learn the traditional territories on which our individual team members are located, please visit our team page.