The author, Kyla, at the BIPOC farming immersion at Soul Fire Farm. Photo by Quin Buck, @kisewehtawin.
On June 18th, Statistics Canada released an infographic thanking Canadian farmers for their role in the Canadian food chain and for helping to get food on the table of millions of Canadians. Amongst the facts about growing fruit and meat production, I couldn’t help but notice the glaring omission of labour and violence that has led us to where we are in the narrative around the Canadian food chain. Now without a doubt, if you ate today you can thank a farmer. But who else do you have to thank?
I can’t help but think about the invisibilized stories and people that the Canadian food system relies on so that we all can eat. Canada’s food chain is standing on the backs of the many Indigenous peoples of Canada who were pushed off of their land to make way for the farmers who settled across Canada. Canada’s food chain is standing on the backs of the thousands of migrant workers who work in the orchards, fields, and processing plants that supply our stores and marketplaces. Canada’s food chain is standing on the backs of the many individuals who work in the grocery stores, fast-food chains, and restaurants who get paid minimum wage. We need to thank a lot more people for the food on our tables.
The invisibilizing of all these people and the contributions they make to the Canadian food landscape is violence. Canada’s food systems did not begin with European settlers. Indigenous people have been living on this land, hunting and gathering and, yes, also farming for thousands of years. Indigenous peoples have been fighting to protect the land and water for hundreds of years. It is also important to remember that white settlers were not the only non-Indigenous people farming in Canada. There is also a rich history of Chinese and Japanese immigrants and Black settlers who helped shape the Canadian agricultural landscape over the past one hundred and fifty-some years, all while facing extreme racism and oppressive governmental policies.
Again, we don’t have to look very far back to witness the complexities and violence perpetuated by the Canadian food system. Today, migrant workers across Canada are protesting the lack of safety measures around farming and COVID-19. Today, Indigenous people are still fighting to protect their lands from destructive development and resource extraction. Today, grocery store workers are striking for fair pay during this pandemic. The struggle for a healthy, safe, and just food system is ongoing.
Throughout history, Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) have pointed to our relationship with the land, and to food, as a space of resistance and fundamental to our wellbeing. The Black Panther Party set up a community food program that the foundations of school food clubs were built from. Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights icon from Mississippi, developed the Freedom Farm Cooperative in an attempt to empower and support black farmers and sharecroppers while also addressing the food and nutritional needs of the Black community. Indigenous people across Turtle Island have been fighting for food sovereignty for years. This fight continues today with Migrant rights organizations, reparations for African Canadians and Americans, and the LAND BACK movement taking place across Turtle Island.
So where does that leave us as we trudge forward in this complicated world of ours? How do we collaborate and restore our relationships with one another and our food systems? Step one is to educate and equip ourselves with the knowledge of the histories hidden behind Canada’s colonial legacies. Step two is to support BIPOC in all levels of the food industry.
The past months have laid bare the fragility of our food systems, but we’ve also been presented with the opportunity to pivot and reshape what we want our food systems to look like. A system where everyone has access to healthy and culturally appropriate food, where the land is not owned by a few individuals, where workers are paid fairly and have safe working environments as they contribute to the Canadian food chain. Without acknowledging the complicated and violent histories, while invisibilizing the people fighting today for their rights we won’t know true food justice. This is how we begin to thank everyone involved in making sure we have food on our tables.
Looking for more resources on BIPOC farming and food systems on Turtle Island?
- Indigenous Food Systems Concepts, Cases, and Conversations. Edited by Priscilla Settee and Shailesh Shukla
- Freedom Farmers Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement by Monica M. White
- Lost Harvests by Sarah Carter
- Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life by James Daschuk
- Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Articles + Papers:
- The History of Food in Canada Is the History of Colonialism By Corey Mintz
- Parallel Alternatives: Chinese-Canadian Farmers and the Metro Vancouver Local Food Movement by Natalie Ruth Gibb
People/Organizations/Farms to know about:
- Indigenous Food Systems Network
- Indigenous Climate Action
- Dehydration Nations
- Black Creek Community Farm
- Sundance Harvest
- Winona Laduke
- Robin Wall Kimmerer
About the Author
Kyla is a Métis, Black woman born and raised in Amiskwaciwâskahikan / ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ (Edmonton). Over the years Kyla has worked with a number of non-profit organizations focusing on anti-oppression, advocacy, and community-building. Her experiences and interests are centred around Indigenous solidarity, sustainability, community health, and food justice. The goal of her work is to build more resilient, just, and healthier communities. She is currently the Director of Operations at Indigenous Climate Action.
You can follow her on Instagram @kylaplovesfood