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Aboriginal Food Security in Northern Canada: An Assessment of the State of Knowledge

May 27, 2014

Ontario Health Promotion E-Bulletin – 


I Introduction
II The Panel’s Approach to the Assessment
III Key Findings
IV Promising Practices to Build Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Health, and Wellness
V Conclusion

Submitted by Council of Canadian Academies

I Introduction

Food security is a growing challenge. The global economic crisis and increased food prices have made the situation more urgent for the world’s 870 million chronically undernourished people. In 2011, 12% of Canadian households experienced food insecurity, with one in eight households affected, or 3.9 million individuals. Of these, 1.1 million were children. Food insecurity presents a particularly serious challenge in Canada’s remote Aboriginal communities. In 2011, off-reserve Aboriginal households in Canada were about twice as likely as other Canadian households to be food insecure. Due to the high cost of importing food to the North, the average cost of groceries for a household with children in Nunavut, Nunatsiavut (NL), and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (NWT and YT) in 2007–2008 was $19,760 per year, yet 49% of Inuit adults earned less than $20,000. With growing importance being placed on northern economic development, there is increased pressure to deal with food insecurity. Solutions require the involvement not just of policy-makers but of those most affected by food insecurity: people living in the North.

Charge to the Panel

In recognition of this problem, Health Canada asked the Council of Canadian Academies to appoint an expert panel to respond to the following question:

What is the state of knowledge of the factors influencing food security in the Canadian North and of the health implications of food insecurity for Northern Aboriginal populations?

To undertake the assessment, the Council appointed a multidisciplinary panel of national and international experts that included Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal scholars, most of whom have lived and worked in northern communities. The Expert Panel examined peer-reviewed literature along with credible reports and articles, and they ensured that evidence was informed by traditional knowledge and community-based research. Council assessments do not involve widespread consultations, but the Panel worked with National Aboriginal Organizations to locate additional data and ensure that conclusions were based on a diversity of evidence sources.

II The Panel’s Approach to the Assessment

To understand food security in northern Aboriginal environments, the Panel took a holistic approach. It developed a people-centred framework that presents the many factors that influence life in the North. Rather than being understood as discrete entities, the concepts of food security and food sovereignty emerge from the inter-relationships of the multiple factors and themes in the framework.

The innovative conceptual framework considers the scope of evidence and expertise that is explored in the report. It demonstrates that the state of knowledge of Aboriginal food security in the North can only be understood through a multifaceted and nuanced perspective that respects the various experiences of diverse First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities. The framework can serve as a tool for policy-makers, researchers, and, most of all, those individuals and communities affected by food security challenges in the North, to help build meaningful and lasting solutions.

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