Written by Claire Heidenreich
Chew on This! is a bi-weekly mini speaker series hosted at the South Osborne Farmers’ Market that aims to bring market-goers and local food champions together with the idea that a market should be a meeting place and a place of critical ideas as well as commerce.
Audrey Logan is a Nehiyaw (Cree)/métis woman from Northern Alberta who teaches out of a permaculture garden in West Broadway using traditional knowledge methods. We were honoured to have her come and share her wisdom and experience on food security, food sovereignty, and Indigenous rights.
Audrey grew up in a time of change, when people were transitioning from farm to city life, from buying food from outdoor markets to buying from grocery stores, and from fresh, whole foods to heavily processed products. Audrey believes that much valuable knowledge has been lost in this transition. She can still recount the days where food was a community endeavour. People shopped at co-ops, and farmers and gardeners saved and shared seeds, independent from outside seed companies.
By the time Audrey came to Winnipeg, things had changed significantly. The culture around food had changed. Food was no longer something that came from and stayed in the local community. Food deserts were common. Open-air food markets were illegal, and have been until more recent years. Audrey suggests the cause of this was a combination of food safety taken too far, classism, and strong pushback from corporate interest groups wishing to limit competition. She recounts a time where she had to buy fresh, local eggs and milk illegally in discrete locations from cautious individuals. Food rules in Canada were, and often still are, strict, and designed for large industrial operations, poorly suited to small, local operations, which often find these rules and regulations difficult to impossible to meet. Many of these issues are still present today, and they affect marginalized groups the most.
Audrey then spoke about current food security and food sovereignty issues facing Indigenous communities. Food security and access to fresh and nutritious food is a struggle for many Indigenous people in northern communities. The land is marginal and poorly suited to growing food, legal restrictions and lost knowledge hinder hunting and gathering, and the food available in grocery stores is overpriced and low in nutritional value. Junk food receives corporate funding to stock shelves at northern company stores, which often have monopolies on the local food supply, allowing them to set prices as they please. This leaves Indigenous people in northern communities with few food options other than nutrient-poor, processed food.
So where do these issues stem from? Why do many Indigenous people still struggle with food security? Audrey explains Indigenous history, and some of the policies implemented early during the colonization of Canada, with far-reaching effects still influencing food security in vulnerable populations today.
Many of the issues began with the implementation of the Indian Act in 1876, which regulates how reserves and bands operate, and legally defines who is or is not recognized as an “Indian”. This act contained many injustices and policies that led to gender discrimination, residential schools, the pushing of Indigenous people onto marginal land, and the suppression and loss of culture and religion. This act also led the way to many other racist and oppressive policies. In terms of food security, the main policy used to halt and suppress flourishing Indigenous economic and agricultural growth and development was the Peasant Farming Policy, implemented by the Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, Hayter Reed (Audrey wryly pointed out the ironic accuracy of the name “hater”). Though Indigenous people had previously been successful farmers (both prior to colonization and after), this policy aimed to reduce their status to that of peasants by limiting their options and opportunities. Indigenous people were prevented from using modern farming equipment, and a Pass system prevented free movement into and out of reserves, making it impossible for them to access mills or market their already limited harvest. Over the years, other obstacles stacked up against Indigenous food security. Many Indigenous farmers were further driven out of the industry by the formation of the Wheat Board, while the Severance Bill restricted the land they could own, and without valuable farm equipment, they had no collateral to borrow money from the bank. Essentially, only non-natives were allowed to farm in Canada.
Thus a culture that had not previously struggled with food insecurity, and had proven to be skilled and successful at agricultural practices were limited and forced into hardship and deprivation. The consequences of this have since spread and now affect other vulnerable populations, and many of the archaic laws are still in effect. In 1995 the permit system was technically rescinded, though some reserves still struggle against it. Audrey tells an example of a Saskatchewan reserves that was denied the opportunity to get potatoes on their land or taken off the reserve, and the farm was shut down. It remains illegal to share food between reserves. Audrey has also noticed how the Noxious Weed Act can unfairly hurt Indigenous people by making it illegal to grow native plants, including those used for medicinal, spiritual, or cultural purposes. She believes these laws stem from an attempt to stop Indigenous people from gathering in farmer’s fields. And the social harms caused in years past have created cultural barriers to the transition towards food security. Religion forced on children in residential schools taught them to stay off the land, to not look to it as a source of sustenance and support. Traditional knowledge was lost from the separations of families, and now many Indigenous people have difficulties learning how to hunt and gather, and support themselves with traditional practices. Audrey sees a culture of victim blaming surrounding current-day Indigenous issues, where people believe that the solutions are simple, and Indigenous communities are just inadequately skilled or motivated to find them. “It’s like breaking someone’s leg and then complaining they’re limping”. There are many challenges facing Indigenous and other vulnerable populations in terms of food security and food sovereignty. But there is hope moving forward. We now have a number of farmers markets, operating out in the open, completely legal. That’s progress, in Audrey’s opinion. She emphasizes that there are also many ways individuals can help: she suggests that people educate themselves on food security issues and where they stem from, and then speak out about it. Call out racism towards Indigenous people, and educate them on the barriers faced by Indigenous communities. When politicians come to your door this election season, ask them about food security and Indigenous rights. Demand policies that are accessible. Many Indigenous people are on disability, and struggle to support themselves. Support local farmers that can have personal relationships with people, and can be flexible for vulnerable populations, like allowing them to help out at the farm in exchange for food. Directly supporting small, local family farms increases food security for all of us. We can reform the communities broken by transition, and adapt them to our modern, urban world. And we can achieve food security.
Today Audrey cares for, teaches from, and feeds herself in part from a permaculture garden in west Broadway. The garden was built atop gravel, and has been building soil for years. A no till, no weed, no water method of growing provides a low-maintenance operation. She works with nature instead of against it, trusting it to provide for her needs. Sometimes this means eating things others normally wouldn’t, like thistles, but Audrey is grateful for ways the garden has helped her. Living on processed food from the grocery store, she experienced many regular flare-ups from chronic illness. Living off the garden has helped her feel healthier and more energized. It’s provided her with food security, which is what her garden is all about. She shares her knowledge and her harvest with others struggling to feed themselves, building the community that’s needed for healthy, sustainable food systems.
Audrey has much more knowledge to share, if you would like to learn more from her, drop by and help out in the garden. You might find her working the soil with her natural, multi-purpose deer antler gardening tools, which she finds connects her to the spirit of the deer, whose nibbles on vegetation encourages the sprouting of fresh new growth. Come out on Wednesdays at 7pm, and Saturdays at 10am, to 545 Broadway, where you can help things grow, and learn some amazing things. If you want to help Audrey and others struggling with food security, you can donate to the Good Food Club here.
Together, we can learn, grow, and change for the better.