Study urges decision-makers to address First Nations food insecurity and sovereignty

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has announced the release of the Key Findings and Recommendations for Decision-makers of the First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study (FNFNES). The 10-year study was led by principal investigators and researchers from the AFN, the University of Ottawa and Université de Montréal.

Built on collaborative research with 92 First Nations across the country,

“The FNFNES highlights that traditional foods remain foundational to First Nations’ health and well-being and that the quality of traditional food is superior to store-bought food,” said the study, built on collaborative research with 92 First Nations across the country. “However, due to environmental degradation, socioeconomic, systemic and regulatory barriers, many First Nations face three to five times the rate of food insecurity more than the Canadian population overall.”

The study says that families with children are affected to an even greater degree.

The FNFNES partners urge decision-makers to use the key findings and recommendations, being released the week after World Food Day, to inform policies and programs to address First Nations food insecurity and sovereignty. The six primary recommendations are:

– Support initiatives promoting First Nations rights, sovereignty, self-determination, values and culture.
– Prioritize protecting the environment, First Nations lands, waters and territories.
– Build capacity to eliminate barriers to proper nutrition, reducing food insecurity.
– Improve partnerships, collaboration and communication between First Nations and all levels of government, as well as partnerships between First Nations to support sharing information about food, nutrition and the environment.
– Support continuing research, education and public awareness.
– Create a First Nations-led joint national task force or committee to plan how to implement these recommendations.

“For First Nations, traditional food represents much more than nutrition, it plays important cultural, spiritual and ceremonial roles,” said Tonio Sadik, AFN Senior Director of Environment Lands and Water and FNFNES Principal Investigator. “There is an urgent need to address systemic problems and barriers relating to First Nations food systems, security and sovereignty in a way that honours First Nations knowledge, leadership and rights.”

Sadik added that new programs, policies and legislation must be created to protect the environment from further degradation and ensure that First Nations have access to a healthy diet, including traditional food.

“This first of its kind study can only be accomplished because of the strong partnership between the AFN, the government officials and the academic researchers. In particular, we are grateful for the collective wisdom of the nearly 7,000 participants and team members from the 92 communities throughout the country over the last 10 years,” said Dr. Laurie Chan, FNFNES Principal Investigator, University of Ottawa professor and Canada Research Chair in Toxicology and Environmental Health.

“We sincerely hope the findings of FNFNES will contribute to improving the nutritional quality of food and the health of First Nations for generations to come,” explains Chan.

According to the release, studies like the FNFNES can support First Nations to make informed decisions about nutrition, the environment and environmental stewardship, lead to further research and advocacy safeguarding First Nations’ rights and jurisdiction and provide a baseline for measuring environmental changes.

“This participatory research was possible because it emanated from a need expressed by First Nations to shed light on the nutrition and environmental situation in their communities,” said Dr. Malek Batal, FNFNES Principal Investigator, Professor in the Nutrition Department of the Faculty of Medicine of Université de Montréal, and Canada Research Chair in Nutrition and Health Inequalities.

“First Nations face disproportionate challenges in terms of access to healthy, culturally relevant food. FNFNES points to the need for guaranteeing improved access to traditional food which has a potential role in countering the rise in chronic disease and combating food insecurity,” Batal adds.

Now complete, the FNFNES identified areas needing further study. Its core partners are collaborating on another multi-year research project called the Food, Environment, Health and Nutrition of First Nations Children and Youth (FEHNCY) study. Like the FNFNES, this study is being funded by Indigenous Services Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.

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