First Nations Food Sovereignty: An Interview with The 3 Sisters’ House (Nswo Nshiimenhig Endaayaat)

The TYFPC was fortunate enough to have Aurora Felix and Patrick Nadjiwon of the Three Sisters’ House (Nswo Nshiimenhig Endaayaat) lead us in a discussion workshop on the food security and food sovereignty of Canada’s indigenous peoples at our last community meeting. We focused on the importance of traditional environmental knowledge and traditional foodways for addressing current food problems and reimagining future solutions.

Below are some photos from the meeting and the words of Patrick in response to questions we had following up on our discussion.


Patrick leading discussion
Aurora serving up pemmican
Aurora teaching us how to make pemmican

Aurora’s jam



  1. How do you see the relationship of health, land, and history?

Everything is interconnected; land has to be healthy, so that what we eat is healthy and good for us. Historically we have seemed to have gotten off the path of eating natural foods due to increasing demand for food.

  1. How do you think colonialism has affected our food system and traditional livelihoods?

It has lead to diseases such as diabetes, heart problems, obesity, and various types of cancers. Processed foods, genetic manipulation, pollution impacting natural eco systems, poisoning plants, animals, land, water, and air; lost of traditional territories (land and water rights).

  1. What is the importance of valuing different kinds of knowledge pertaining to food, the environment, health, and sustainability?

It is very important to have traditional, cultural knowledge, incorporated with scientific knowledge that does not undermine or devalue the world view of various First Nations. Science can enhance and support the traditional, environmental knowledge and accept the Spirituality of First Nations. First Nations Peoples had natural laws that maintained a natural balance of co existence through ceremony and ritual. For example, tobacco was offered in taking the life of plants and animals that sacrificed themselves so that we could exist.

  1. What effects do tar sands, proposed pipe lines, and other forms of resource extraction have on Aboriginal food justice, security, and sovereignty? What can we do about this?

These types of developments are threatening our very existence. Mainstream societies development of the combustion engine used in vehicles and factories created a dependence upon fossil fuels has created problems for the environment. Oil spills on land and waters destroy entire ecosystems and contaminating the land and water and therefore the plants, animals and sea life from which there is no return. Ancient traditional ways of living through hunting, trapping, gathering and fishing are destroyed forcing First Nations to become dependent upon a foreign system such as welfare, eating foreign foods that are not natural to their diet. Life forms become sick and diseased with cancers or contaminated with heavy metals and First Nations can no longer rely on a tradition diet.

  1. Can you shed some light on the broader political context and policies which affect the food security and sovereignty of Canada’s indigenous peoples? 

Being aware of the Governments true intentions of eroding Aboriginal and Treaty Rights through various program funding cutbacks since I was young and seeing the Government actions through these cutbacks in Health, Education and being active in politics and through protests against Government policies. Understanding the history since contact is important as it reveals the true intentions of the colonizers. Foreign laws imposed on the various First Nations impacted on their way of life and again forcing a reliance and dependence upon a foreign way of life.

For example, The Chippewas of Nawash First Nation during the early settler period were not permitted to hunt and encroachment on their lands by squatters lead to the depopulation of animal and plant habitat and eventually the removal of the Nawash First Nation to lands deemed unsuitable for habitation by man or beast while the most productive and fertile lands were overtaken by squatters. Fishing was also taken over and commercial fishing licenses were issued to the White settlers and the Nawash Peoples were forced to fish in a very small area. However, in 1994, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) of Ontario proceeded to charge two Chippewas of Nawash First Nation with fishing out of season and over fishing.

The MNR lost their case and the Chippewas of Nawash were reinstated their Aboriginal and Treaty right to fish commercially since they were able to prove that was a way of life previous to contact. White fishermen commercial fishing licenses were bought out by the MNR and Ontario and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation assumed their Sovereignty by establishing management over fishing in the waters of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron with the boundaries being seven miles out from Meaford out into Georgian Bay and extending northward and then westward to Lake Huron seven miles out and then south to Goderich, Ontario in Lake Huron. Saugeen Ojibway Nation also through the development of the Deluth Declaration which basically stated that the S.O.N. was the Sovereign Power over waters of Lake Huron.

  1. How are different Aboriginal peoples differentially affected by these forces of change and why?

Geography and different species of animals, birds and sea creatures and what value the lands and waters held for the White Man. Oil and gas, minerals, timber, fisheries. The Chippewas of Nawash were affected by the loss of Fisheries, loss of lands and culture by the forced assimilation policies of church and state. Pre Confederation Treaties were of Peace, friendship and an equal partnership between the New Comers and the First nations and an equal sharing of the natural resources and lands as suggested by the Two Row Wampum Treaties (Wampum Belts signified matters of Great Importance whether it was between First Nations or with the New comers).

Confederation Treaties dealt with the erosion of Aboriginal Rights and modern day Treaties such as the James Bay Treaty or the Treaty established recently with the Nis Gaa First Nation in British Columbia, offered large amounts of dollars as compensation for the ceding of certain Aboriginal Rights and an opportunity to begin the process of Self Governance in the lands set aside for these individual First Nations.. * Although intended to erode Aboriginal and Treaty Rights, one of the numbered Treaties, as they became known in the Prairie Provinces and one area of Northern Ontario, contained what is known as “The Medicine Chest Clause” which guaranteed medical care and benefits for all First Nations. Also, education was also established as a Treaty and Aboriginal Right.

  1. What does ‘health’ mean? What does ‘the environment’ mean? What does ‘sustainability’ mean? And to who? How does traditional Aboriginal knowledge and practices help us revisit and realize these concepts in new and empowering ways?

When it comes to terminology in the English language, we have to be careful; what health means to the White settlers is one thing and what health means to various First Nations is another. Also, much is lost in the translation from English to Ojibway or Inuit. The Ojibway term mino b’maadiziwin general means to be in well being, of good health through diet and in spirit, to walk in balance.

Same applies to environment which generally speaking in English terms means the area in which we live. Sustainability means to survive in a good way, a healthy way. To maintain a balance and harmony. Great care was taken to not take too much of one species and to spread out our hunting, gathering and fishing territories out so that there would always be food or plants, medicines, berries or fish for future generations to come. To sustain oneself or ones community so as to avoid starvation and survival of the People. Scouting parties were sent out to see if enough signs of, say for example, if enough moose were in that Hunting area of that individual family or clan. If signs showed little to no sign of moose then another clan was asked permission to hunt in their territory for that season. Sharing of territories ensured survival of the First Nation through sustainable hunting, gathering or fishing methodologies.

  1. You have done a lot of work around community gardening, and generally encourage food literacy by giving people skills to prepare nutritious food – can you speak to the importance of taking back these means of production both for personal wellbeing and sociopolitical change?

Having been taught to hunt, fish, gather at an early age and growing up with our family garden and witnessing other families grow their own food and then seeing how the majority of community members stopped growing their own gardens and become dependent upon the grocery food market located in the nearest town of Wiarton. Then witnessing the change in that food market to one of genetically modified foods and previously processed foods such as sugar, flour, salt, lard chemically induced food and seeds. Diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease became prevalent in the community and were directly related to these processed foods. Becoming aware of pollutants in the air, water, earth concerns me as studies have shown a buildup of heavy metals in plants, animals and fish which also exposed diseases such as cancers in fish and animals and understanding the cycle of the food chain.

It is scary to think that the present day Government has eroded laws, meant to protect our fresh waters, lands and environments so that he can push forth his own hidden agenda so that oil and gas and tar sands can be extracted, shipped, and transported by pipeline, rail way tankers despite a history of destruction of ecosystems of land and waters which life itself is dependent on. All this so that he can keep the oil, mines and corporations satisfied in the name of the all mighty dollar.

  1. What types of activism are being done and how can people get involved?

There have been recent protests such as the Idle No More Protests, the bringing out of the Two Row Wampum as a reminder that Treaties of Peace, friendship and unity and that Two Nations are to work in harmony in making important decisions when it comes to People, resources, environment and the protection of the environment and way of life. Petitions on line and the social movement of twitter, facebook etc. have proven to be effective in creating awareness and support of these protests not only in Canada but World Wide.

Self education of the history of the new comers and their intentions of raping the planet of its resources, including the role of churches, religions and the laws developed to control the masses in the name of such and such a country. Also, the manipulation of women to disempowering them through Papal Laws that developed some of the most horrendous, cruel, evil torching methodologies ever in the human historical record.

  1. What is a take home message you would like to give people on the status of contemporary Aboriginal foodways?

Spirituality…Our way of life, our understanding of life and that all things are interconnected. We simply look towards First Nations cultures for our answers towards living a good spiritual life. We need to change the way the direction we are heading and we must ask ourselves this…Are we choosing a Life Path of destruction and despair or do we choose a life of peace and harmony? Do we need a government leader that only seeks to satisfy its own ego instead of listening and doing what is good for the people, do we see a democratic government and society or is this a government dictatorship hell bent on the continual destruction of this countries land, air and waters and of the beauty this country has to offer?

There are alternatives we can change to make this a better world and to turn away from our reliance on fossil fuels and the industrial age to a better system that enables all life to continue to flourish. Starting today, we must start to think ahead Seven Generations and the legacy we leave the seventh generation.

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