On November 7, the Assembly of First Nations, the University of Ottawa and the Université de Montréal released the first draft of the decade-long study regarding First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment (FNFNES). The study examines the importance of traditional foods and the impact of environmental degradation towards First Nation access to food security.
From 2008 to 2018, the FNFNES gathered data from 92 randomly selected nations across Canada – excluding the territories. Mistissini, Waskaganish and Whapmagoostui were chosen for the program. Participants were asked a range of questions regarding their community’s overall food use and security, hunting, eating and living habits.
Using an ecozone sampling framework, the FNFNES tested the nutrient value and chemical hazards in foods, as well as mercury levels in the hair and levels of heavy metals and pharmaceuticals in the water.
“The results were good,” noted Gerald Salt, cultural program officer for Waskaganish. He was the coordinator and representative for the FNFNES study from 2017 until February 2019. “We were lucky to be able to do this study in the community. We eat traditional foods almost every day. The answer is a good piece of information for us.”
However, it is recommended that the people of Waskaganish eat moose organs only once or twice a year due to unsafe levels of cadmium found in some samples. Mercury levels in fish are high at certain times of the year, as well. “The thing that surprised me about the study is that walleye has more mercury than pike,” said Salt.
Overall, the FNFNES reports that 22%-60% of First Nations experience food insecurity, a number three to five times higher than the general Canadian population.
Ten nations in the Quebec-Labrador region participated in the FNFNES study. The April 2019 results note that a substantive 76% of households consider themselves to be generally food insecure to severely food insecure, either due to physical or economic barriers to safe, nutritious and sufficient food.
In the same regional study, 25% of adults have diabetes and 78% of households harvested traditional food. An overwhelming 84% of sampled participants in the Quebec-Labrador region desire more traditional food in their homes.
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde placed blame on industry that feeds climate change and encouraged First Nations to play a role in maintaining a holistic healthy community.
“It is important that food insecurity be addressed, the cost of nutritious food be lowered, and the impacts of industry be assessed,” Bellegarde said in a statement. “First Nations have long been caretakers of these lands and these lands have taken care of us. First Nations must play a role in this work.”
The FNFNES marks a new beginning for Indigenous nutrition, food and environment research. Partners in the study are launching another multi-year research project titled the Food, Environment, Health and Nutrition of First Nations Children and Youth (FEHNCY) study, which will funded by Indigenous Services Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.
You can find detailed reports at your local band office or by visiting FNFNES.ca.