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Land Back and the Connection to Our Food System

Understanding where food comes from.
Bonnie Klohn
Bonnie Klohn, Kamloops Food Policy Council, Organizational Leadership Team Member

If you regularly eat, it is important to understand the underpinnings of where food comes from: the land. That is why this month the Kamloops Food Policy Council’s book club is focused on the topic of Land Back, Indigenous consent, and the connection to food.

May’s book club selection is the Yellowhead Institute Red Paper on Land Back (available for free online, along with many other helpful resources on the Yellowhead Institute website). You may be familiar with the social media hashtag #landback where many Indigenous voices have shared their visions for what Land Back could look like.

The Yellowhead Institute Land Back uses consent as the primary lens through which it looks at Land Back. The simple principle being that so called Canadian land that the provincial and federal governments claim has never been surrendered by Indigenous communities. We all know that activities that occur on someone else’s land will require their consent. The Yellowhead Institute Land Back paper discusses how Indigenous consent has been and is ignored, coerced, negotiated or, (ideally) enforced in Canada.

The Land Back reading also discusses the denial of Indigenous consent over the land, as well as regulations that recognize consent to some degree, and finally examples where consent has been reclaimed by the Indigenous communities themselves.

An important component of the Land Back discussion for me (also relevant to anyone who eats) is to understand the role of agriculture as a tool for the dispossession of Indigenous land. One of the key factors in the direct seizure of Indigenous lands redistributed to settlers by the government was the promise that they would farm the land. The European view of agriculture as the only proof of using the land for “productive” means was imposed on Indigenous lands as this region was colonized.

The extensive and widespread management systems enacted by Indigenous communities resulting in abundant ecosystems that nourished the people were ignored. Ample salmon runs, copious berry harvests and generous root crops were not seen as a sign of the active Indigenous participation and stewardship that had occurred on the land since time immemorial. Instead, colonial policy alienated Indigenous relationships with the land and imposed a European system of agriculture that erased and threatened Indigenous food systems.

In acknowledgement of the erasure and intrusion that European agricultural practices have had on the Indigenous food system, the Kamloops Food Policy Council has articulated Indigenous food sovereignty as a core value. Our network defined this value as:

Food is recognized as a sacred gift that cannot be commodified. Food is produced in a sustainable, balanced way that reflects and respects the interconnectedness of food, people, and nature. Traditional practices and cultural harvesting strategies are a living reality, with widespread participation and guaranteed access to culturally-adapted foods. Access to traditional land is ensured, by returning it or creating Indigenous protected areas that do not restrict traditional land uses. Policies are put in place that ensure the integrity and health of Indigenous food systems for future generations. These policies are developed using a cross cultural approach that emphasizes Indigenous self-determination, respects Indigenous legal orders and works with natural systems/laws. Non-indigenous members work to minimize their impacts on unceded lands, educate themselves about colonization and its impacts, and seek points of complementarity with an Indigenous-led decolonization movement.

Part of living this value is supporting Indigneous reclamation initiatives. One of our partners and highly regarded thought leaders, Dawn Morrison (Founder and Curator of the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty) has advanced the reorientation of our thinking from “crown land” to “food lands.” Ultimately, unsurrendered crown lands serve as vital food sources for Indigenous communities. They are being quickly eroded by exploitive natural resource management and extraction. However, they are needed now more than ever for food as supply chain issues, fires, floods and other climate emergencies threaten our communities.

The Land Back paper also cites several examples of Secwepemc initiatives that advanced the reclamation of consent over the land, including:

• The Tiny House Warrior that aim to protect Secwepemcul’ecw land and water from the harms associated with pipelines

• The Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation Ajax Mine Assessment, an Indigenous-led independent review of the potential impacts of the proposed mine on the interconnected ecosystem.

These Indigenous groups are protecting their right to consent over the use of the land, which is the core of the Land Back movement. Furthermore, food organizations (and all folks who eat regularly) should support these initiatives as a vital part of upholding the integrity of food lands.

In decolonizing our notion of agriculture and where food comes from, we can see the important connections between the Land Back movement, food land protection and the resilience that comes with healthy and abundant land and water.

Please join us to continue the discussion at our Land Back book club which will be held on May 4th, over Zoom, from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. To register, please visit our Kamloops Food Policy Council website: https://kamloopsfoodpolicycouncil.com/landback-bookclub/ or Facebook page: www.facebook.com/kamloopsfoodpolicycouncil.