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Wednesday, March 29, 2006


The Inner City Aboriginal Society (ICAS) was incorporated March 2005.  ICAS is neither a service provider nor a charity, it is an organizing tool where 100% of the membership and Board of Directors are or have been street involved or homeless.  ICAS does not talk about or do for the aboriginal homeless or street involved people, ICAS is the aboriginal homeless and street involved.  Aboriginal people make up 41-50% of the Victoria inner city community.

 The purpose of the society – through the direct leadership of the aboriginal street community - is to facilitate the voice of a community that is the last vestige of an aboriginal lifestyle that was free, communal and strong.  Through voicing the sober feeling of our people who are tired of being objects of charity and clients of service providers, ICAS is promoting a third strategy which is one of self reliance.  Self-reliance - in an aboriginal context – is a process of cultural recovery that promotes socio-economic security, respects cultural rights and one that promotes an inter-tribal philosophy encompassing a victim to dignity journey in each of our lives.

In adopting a very liberal definition of cultural recovery, ICAS is rejecting the boxing in of who we are and who we are defined as by the mainstream.  Cultural recovery is not just about making drums, carving or beading, it is about taking back our oral tradition, of telling stories, of fighting the good fight for justice, it is about feeding ourselves in a manner that is dignified, it is about recovering the dignity of our human existence as our created selves.  Cultural recovery is also about moving from victim to dignity of becoming the person(s) that the Creator had in mind, and it is about moving towards a position of equality with other Canadians. 

We define cultural recovery as any activity that brings out the gifts and talents of a human being.  Food First (Security) is an important aspect of cultural recovery.  Through access to healthy foods, our body health is restored, our mind and brainpower becomes clear and creative, our hearts and feelings are happy.  When we have our health in a holistic fashion, we have the tool to continue our life long battle as an aboriginal people to recover the culture that has been suppressed and oppressed by the assumptions of a western lens. 

In a series of community meetings held in the Fall of 2005, food security was talked about as important part of cultural recovery although at the time the terminology of the food security community were not used, but the topic was discussed in a fashion that the street community understood.  The work that this report describes is a follow up of those community consultation meetings held by the Inner City Aboriginal Society.

Finally, ICAS was involved with the Aboriginal Engagement Process of the Victoria Urban Development Agreement process where food security was identified as a community issue and – as an organization – followed up on that identified need.


Goal:   To engage the urban aboriginal community in a dialogue around food security issues, how those issues are viewed from an urban aboriginal lens and to identify patterns in directions towards in becoming involved in the growing, gathering, processing, preserving and distribution of food within this community.


  •  Facilitate a consultation process through focus groups, community meetings in Victoria area to engage the urban aboriginal community for the purposes of building capacity through awareness and knowledge of food security.

  •  Develop a network of groups and organizations in the Victoria area specifically focused on the urban aboriginal community for consultation purposes to engage in planning food security.

  • Document and evaluate all food security activities, working sessions and focus group through a participatory evaluation process

  • Provide and submit a Building Capacity Report including an evaluation component by March 31, 2006


In engaging the aboriginal community in the food first (security) dialogue ICAS used both the focus group format and a community meeting format.  Our focus groups were designed as Aboriginal Sharing Group meetings, because we did not want to use western methods at this stage to research what the community was thinking and we relied on qualitative methods for the most part.  The Aboriginal Sharing Groups was viewed as 10 participants so we could have in-depth discussions in a relaxed, non-intimidating fashion, where a collective process of visioning and thinking things through as a group could be facilitated but we did not refuse any participation.  Our goal was a maximum of 40 participants through the focus group process.

In addition, we adopted the questionnaire designed by Capital Families Association in their work around creating a food security plan for the Western Communities.  ICAS then worked to fine tune that questionnaire to make sense to the urban aboriginal community in Victoria and to capture the community thinking on food security.

Rather than collecting participatory evaluations, we prepared an evaluation form and then sent it out on March 30th for input to allow people some time to digest their experience at the Aboriginal Sharing Group.  A preliminary report (this report) is available for VIHA to review as of March 31st, however, we wanted to take the contents of this report, the themes documented in the evaluation process and then take specific recommendations to a Community Meeting on the development of an Aboriginal Food Cooperative which can be seen as the western concept of organizing communities that comes closest to aboriginal thinking.

In terms of creating a food security network, ICAS was overwhelmed at the generosity and inclusiveness nature of the food security community.  There is an excitement to explore cultural views on food security issues, there is an excitement to incorporate holistic approaches to food production and a very clear indication of support for an urban aboriginal partner (member) of the Victoria food security community.

In a preliminary and unofficial survey taken while preparing the VIHA proposal, we found that a number of organizations want to explore how we can work together.   ICAS, through the contractors of the Capital Families contract and the ICAS contract have coordinated meetings and issues to promote each organizations process. 

In addition ICAS was honored to be invited and attend the Parksville Networking Meeting where we met members of CF-Fair, Lifecycles, as well as other aboriginal people from Nanoose and Nuu-chal-nuth territory.

Attendance Statistics:  Our meetings were held in late March so that the moccasin telegraph could kick into effect.


Re-Shaping Aboriginal Attitude of Food

All of us have been brought up to think about gardens as a quaint past time.  Food was to be bought at retail outlets for money.  We tend to think of food as a commodity or product to buy.  We are bombarded on a daily basis with nutritional facts, the newest studies and the latest health threats attached to certain food products.  Most of us have not even begun to think about genetically altered food, and their health implications for us.

In creating an Aboriginal Food First philosophy, one of the starting points is to move away from the thou shalt not attitude with respect to food towards an attitude of plentiful food and food that is diverse and available for our consumption that will provide all the nutrients we need.

 Food Is Free

 As part of an attitude change in our community we need to re-learn the fact that food is free.  All one needs to feed oneself are seeds, water, sunshine and access to soil.  Gathering and gleaning from the earth for berries, herbs, medicinal plants are also free.  Hunting and fishing, while not free, certainly can provide access to wild meat and birds but it requires an approach this is outside of the market norms.

Food Security Mechanisms

Most of us – again – are taught to go to the local retail grocery store to buy our food.  We have alternatives such as food buying clubs, food cooperatives, or food security groups.  As a group of people – not only can we grow and gather food – we can develop recipes and even products that can be sold through the market place and that can produce revenue for accessing and growing more food.

Aboriginal Sense of Food Security

During the Aboriginal Sharing Group meetings there was a clear sense that the dialogue on food security was expressed in technical (skills) and western terms.  Equally food security is an agriculture activity – a food security process that does not represents the inter-generational experience of the majority of band or tribal groups.

The removal of aboriginal rights - with respect to access to plants, herbs, fish, animals and birds through hunting, gathering and fishing rights - was largely (and continues to be) accomplished by forcing aboriginal people to move towards agricultural practices.  Many children in residential schools were forced to garden yet they did not get the direct nutritional food that they helped to grow.  Equally many Christian and ethnic groups envisioned utopia models such as the coop community of Sointula by Alert Bay at Malcom Island, and there is a utopian aboriginal community created by the 19th century missionary William Duncan who founded Metlakatla.  Metlakatla was an abandoned Tsimshian village that would be revitalized as a Christian village based on family based and community gardens.  While these models were not forced, they required aboriginal people to abandon traditional aboriginal life styles including aboriginal food security practices.


Those who chose to become Metlakatlans were required to give up the outward signs of their own religion – “the Demoniacal Rites called Ahlied or Medicine Work: Conjuring and all the heathen practices over the sick; Use of intoxicating liquor; Gambling; Painting Faces; Giving away property for display; [and] tearing up property in anger or to wipe out disgrace.” They also had to observe the sabbath, send their children to school, build a house, cultivate a garden, pay taxes, and be “cleanly in habits . . . be industrious . . . peaceful and orderly [and] be honest and upright in dealing with each other and indians of other tribes.” What drew the Tsimshian to the settlement was in part the prosperity it was to offer, but also the certainty that the missionary promised in a time of political, economic, and physical insecurity for many of the coastal tribes.


Having a unique history with agriculture and food security as an oppressive tool that was used to impose western control of aboriginal bands and tribes (Nations) an inter-generational resistance to gardening exists.  Equally, the urban aboriginal community does not have access to wild meats, birds, vegetables and herbs and with the transformation of symbols of oppression (i.e. remodelling old residential schools for aboriginal purposes) there is a growing willingness to look at reinventing community gardens and western food security practices as a way of recovering culture and re-building nations.  In gardens, using agricultural technology and skills we can either gather herbs that we need, or we can grow those herbs and medicines in a local space that is more accessibles to the urban aboriginal person or family living in apartments, medicinal plants can even grown these days on our balconies, window ledges and so forth.  Towards those ends a number of ideas around aboriginal food security were expressed;


Having access to wild foods was a major theme
Government policies that restrict urban aboriginal people from our hunting, fishing and gathering rights must be revisited
Lack of government initiatives in promoting through policy and administrative structure an ability for urban aboriginal groups to gather, hunt and fish as a group
Lack of native food outlets or restaurants who sell food at an affordable price that is not considered specialty food with high end costs
First Nations and aboriginal – Metis leadership should become more involved in working on projects that find a way to reinvent aboriginal relationships to community gardens and agricultural based methods promoted by western food security models
Aboriginal leaders in business need to be involved in the process of creating and implementing an Aboriginal Food Security strategy
We can implement aboriginal  Work parties (such as the Fernwood work party – community action) where we can grow, gather, process and preserve food as a community effort
Raise our awareness as an aboriginal community through Food First Workshops
As an aboriginal community we need to think about our time limitations – we also need to revisit and think about our mindsets and commitment to food security strategies
Holistic approach to food security was a common theme in the disucssions
Forming Community Action Groups around food production
Government policy with respect to access food (Food Runners)


Market System in Food Security


There was a major discussion on the market system and how that system negatively impacts on society in general and aboriginal peoples in particular.  The food market system is influenced very strongly by the measurement and increase of the Gross Domestic Product (GNP).  The economic system through the GNP lens rewards people to buy food from the market system which mass produce food that is not necessarily the most nutritious or quality food product and the system punishes people for privately growing ones own food and communities because it does not – in dollar terms – increase the GDP.


Poor and marginalized communities that are on welfare or have no dollars at all and are dependent upon soup kitchens, food banks are not receiving the most nutritious food.  Aboriginal people for the most part are on the bottom of the socio-economic ladder with very little discretional funds.  Choices for food are made upon how much one can get for a limited amount of dollars.  These foods are processed and are not healthy for the body.  Those who depend upon soup kitchens are fed starch and sugar rich products and drinks.  These foods quicken the dying process for those who have diabetes and other illness.


The control of the food system continues to function as a form of cultural genocide of aboriginal people.  Lack of income restricts choice of food.  Food, that is preserved with chemicals, that is largely made up of starch, sugar are the items that are bought because they can go further in feed a family living on income assistance.   Further the indirect cultural genocide impacts on those aboriginal people who are dependent upon the soup kitchens and food banks.  Products – again made up of sugar, starch, preservatives, etc., make up the food offered at a lot of soup kitchens.  These foods only hastens the dying process because the lack of natural nutrition that does not enable the body to battle health problems. 


In addition a food security program that is based on the western diet is counter-productive to the idea of food security if food that is more appropriate to a diet based on an ethnic groups inter-generational diet practices.   Related ideas that were discussed in our dialogue in point form include the following:


Everyone of all economic class having access to more healthier foods
Long term food investment
Universities and colleges should be more involved in the research end of food security
Ensuring enough food
Long term food investment
Hands on Experience in current education system – learning about all aspects of food
Support programs like – Act Now – (fresh fruits and vegetables served in the schools)
Access to and production of research facts and policies


Advocacy Role in an Aboriginal Foods First Plan


As our dialogue progressed and we had participants who were involved in social justice issues, it became apparent that advocacy and challenging the market nature of restricting food.


Soup kitchens and Food Banks who feed and supply people who do not have resources to feed themselves are in fact engaging in a process of killing people.  A discussion on the ingredients of soup kitchen food (especially starches and sugar) and how these ingredients work against the strengthening of health for the marginalized of which aboriginal people make up 41-50% of the homeless and street community in the Inner City of Victoria.


Food and who controls the supply of food is political.  The ones who control the food system are in a position of power to ensure the distribution of food.  The system – as said earlier – rewards people for purchasing food within a market economy framework and punishes those who create food through non-market means.  However, this trend is slowly changing as retail producers and sellers are redoing their messaging buy buying local produce and so forth.


Food is a good attraction for community meetings, especially those meetings that organize community.  The Good Food Box Program started by the Status of Women Action Group – as an example – developed this program as a core part of a larger strategy to support the empowerment of women.  Aboriginal gatherings are centered around food whether that be a community meeting, a give away ceremony or a potlatch.  Food is central to our social lives as aboriginal people.


Food has also been a weapon of the system to keep aboriginal people in line.  As an example, we heard stories about parents who had their children apprehended because – when the children were asked what they were fed and when it became apparent that they were not getting western meat – the social worker assumed neglect. Social workers have western expectations around diet and have misinterpreted the fact that aboriginal children do not eat western food has been the cause for removal of children.  Many aboriginal people are also vegetarian, and an Aboriginal Food First Project must educate the aboriginal community at large that it is ok to be vegetarian.  Again, western diet assumptions that run counter to aboriginal choice of food restricts aboriginal people from eating the foods that their peoples have eaten for generations.


In order to sustain an advocacy role a communication plan needs to be developed as part of the Aboriginal Food First Plan.  Equally important is to build a network of support.  The ethnic, visible minority and immigrant communities were suggested as natural allies when it comes to the discussion of culture and food.


Earth Based Food First Aboriginal Approach


The connection with a proposed movement towards creating an aboriginal Food First Strategy with the environment movement was discussed.


Wasting food was a major point.  In traditional times, indigenous communities generally found a way in which every part of an animal – after killed – was used for some purpose that helped sustain an aboriginal community.  In addition, the construction of shelters, the situating of villages and camping sights were done in a manner that conformed to the earths natural law.  Points relating to an earth-based (environmentally friendly focus) include the;


Harmony with natural laws
Environment friendly transportation and cleaning products
Eating Fresh Foods (non-spoiled or old food)
Contaminated free foods
Local grown food
Sustainable agriculture
Knowledge of agriculture (Composting)
Quality of food
Networking and current resources – participating in and building upon (Lifecycles, Food Not Bombs)
Linking the people who have the hands on skill to the people who don’t have it


An Aboriginal Food First Approach


The notion of an Aboriginal Food Cooperative enjoyed unanimous support as an organizational tool that would promote cultural recovery for the urban aboriginal community with respect to a Food First strategy. The Coop is seen as being the vehicle that would allow for the development of the recommendations and thinking that arose from the Aboriginal Sharing Groups and Community Meeting to discuss the idea of an Aboriginal Foods First strategy. 


In a discussion of pro and con, it was acknowledge that an Aboriginal Food Cooperative would contribute greatly to the health of the urban aboriginal members, it would provide the coop members an opportunity to address social isolation issues while creating a good sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.  As members of a cooperative they are also owners of the business of the community (which leaves the possibility of the coop to become a social enterprise) and that would entice members to work harder for their coop.  The cooperative would also provide a framework to make progress for our membership all the points raised and thought about in this Food First Aboriginal Dialogue Process.


The cons suggested were few but significant.  Many people felt that the perception would be that to develop a coop would create a lot of work for people and unless there is the human commitment of time and love for the coop, the coop will fail.  A sense of intimidation for many aboriginal people would exist because of moving into territory that they have very little knowledge about.


In wrestling with a visual concept for what the coop would look like a number of points were made.  In a bit of confused discussion about the difference between a coop and a social enterprise, we realized that a coop can be both.  It was not necessary for the Coop in its initial years to show profit, but to break even would be a more realistic measure of success.  The coop could function as a place of training; teaching and sharing information on growing, harvesting, preparing, preserving and distributing food, smoking food workshops, canning practices. 


In terms of community gardening, the coop would have to decide who it is growing for.   Would the coops garden grow specifically for the members or would there be a commitment to growing for community and soup kitchens, etc. 


The idea of product development to produce revenue was also tossed around in the dialogue. The idea of identifying recipes that incorporate native or traditional foods, developing new aboriginal recipes and through that the creation of products would be a possible source of revenue generation.


A community kitchen was suggested and the Carnegie model was offered as a model to explore.  At the Carnegie Centre in Vancouver, the restaurant operates as a social enterprise restaurant where the members contribute to the management and operations of the restaurant.  The members pay for individual meals like everyone else but the costs are very economic.  While working, the members are fed meals for free.  The community kitchen can be an operation centre for food preservation and preparation, freezing, drying, and canning.  The kitchen could also function as a training place for the coop members to learn new food skills.


The proposed Aboriginal Food Cooperative would develop an aboriginal philosophical approach to provide an aboriginal contribution to the evolution of (or return to) earth based communal approaches to feeding ourselves.


In terms of philosophical and policy framework in developing an aboriginal approach to Food First strategies would include;


Developing an aboriginal food first strategy that is based on inter-generational and inter-tribal approaches to gathering food (hunting, fishing and gathering) – that these methods of securing food regain their primary place in an aboriginal food security strategy.
Re-define community gardens and western agriculture by a review of gardening in a contemporary urban setting and research indigenous garden practices in Canada and throughout the world.  (A focus on environmentally friendly growing practices should be the guiding fact in whether an indigenous agricultural practice forms part of our re-invention of an aboriginal agricultural model with respect to community gardening).
Learning western techniques of growing foods as well as the nutritional and medicinal values of plants and then apply aboriginal food security as a means of evolving the western food security models to become more culturally inclusive.


A number of very specific solutions were suggested and it was also noted that these solutions and projects could be accomplished within the framework of an Aboriginal Food Cooperative.  These included;


Fair Trade Market promotion (especially between aboriginal and global indigenous communities)
Promoting Balcony Gardens, providing seeds and hardware along with instructions on how to build a balcony garden, etc. - Community Garden Inventory and Development project, (Creating gardens and on-going garden support programs)
Distribution of Seeds Program
Aboriginal adoption of the Good Food Box,
Store promotions – More Free Food Boxes - Grocery stores promoting local grown products through the signage in the store
Movement towards gathering – utilizing food resources in the forest and the creation of Forest Gardens
Identify available resources to process and preserve food, storage space and  transportation to distribute food to the membership of the Aboriginal Food Cooperative, International resources and examples (models)
A strategy to increase accessibility to Cultural or traditional foods


Strategic Questions


During the dialogue process a number of questions were posed; Can we develop a community garden starting in six weeks (May-June 06), but it was decided that this would be over-ambitious.  Alternatives were considered;


A possible community garden in James Bay exists and this garden needs new participants, so perhaps ICAS members could adopt some existing garden spots.  The other community garden available for participation is the community garden at St. Saviours Anglican Church in Vic West – so the short term action plan is for ICAS members to participate in existing gardens while working on the Aboriginal Food Coop concept and development of new gardens.


The idea of gathering events (oysters and clams, vegetables and fruits as they become ready for picking) and a communal workshop on the processing, preparation and preservation (i.e. canning) were seen as being more do-able than a full community garden this year….a potential community garden can be developed in May-June 2007.


Finally, a discussion of the amount of food for an emergency is 7 days so a project could be the development of an emergency package of nutritious and dried food for the Aboriginal Food Coop Members or it could be a product that could produce revenue.



Short Term Community Garden Opportunities


Food should not cost a penny.   What is needed to get started in community garden is a commitment of aboriginal community members.  All is needed is the space (land), everything else (seeds, tools) can be donated.


An inventory of existing community gardens can be made as well as a list of aboriginal people who are interested in getting into community gardening so that people can be connected to community gardens.  Likewise, there are two available community gardens that are looking for new stewards.  These include the James Bay Community Garden and the Community Garden at St. Saviours Anglican Church (Vic-West).


In brainstorming some of the workshops that can be given at the St. Saviours site a number of ideas surfaced;


Individual actions and choices that will support strong food security potential
Workshops in teaching where our food supplies come from.
Seed saving workshops
Building cob structures
Worm culture and permaculture education and projects
Compost education
Nutrition awareness workshops
Herb and their culinary uses
Cooking based on gathering and harvest cycles
Pull human resources to do workshops in canning and actual canning.è
Aboriginal Kids and Youth Workshops with Makola Native Housing
Welcome Pole Process – to develop relationships at the garden
Plan and organize gathering events (gleaning fruits, gathering oysters and clams,etc)


Outreach Challenges

 Finally, there was a discussion on the whole area of outreach – how do we get community members interested.  We must talk to people and promote a dialogue of aboriginal food first realities.  We can do this through aboriginal ceremonies such as give-aways, potlatches and ceremonies.  We must acknowledge the relationship between people, the land aragraph here.