Colonial history

European colonization severely compromised sovereignty, land and land use, animals and foods,  traditional knowledge, and health, both through violence and  subjugation.  The Canadian food system is built on land and knowledge appropriated from First Nations. Rotz (2017) has argued that the settler colonial project depended on agriculture and land possession to be successful. Almost all Canadian farmland remains under the possession of those with white settler ancestry.  She further argues that the national historical narrative is a justification of this colonial history, reinforced by many of our institutions, including the courts, schools and legislation, most notably the federal Indian Act. Equally, significant, the Canadian conventional food system remains highly antagonistic to the ecological knowledge of First Nations.

Indigenous peoples across the world created many of the domesticated plants on which food systems depend, including beans, corn, potatoes, squash, berries, and medicinal plants.  Were it not for indigenous food knowledge, Europeans would not likely have survived in Canada.  Many core indigenous foods were exported to Europe and became part of the diet of the continent.

Reporting in 2014, the Council of Canadian Academies, Expert Panel on Aboriginal Food Security in Northern Canada described the impacts of colonialism  as, “being forcibly removed from the land or being denied access to the land to continue traditional cultural activities, as well as the psychological, physical, and financial effects of dispossession”.

First nations peoples have the highest rates of food insecurity in Canada (Dietitians of Canada, 2016; and see Food Insecurity section).  This is linked to both the decline in access to traditional/country foods (with dispossession, loss of hunting/gathering rights, climate change, toxicity, and other phenomena), and the deficiencies of the market (store-bought food) system.

Concluded the Dietitians of Canada report (2016), "As dietary patterns are shifting, often with transition from traditional to greater reliance on market food, there are increasing risks for and prevalence of chronic health conditions, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, suggesting that inclusion of at least some traditional/country food may be health-promoting or protective against these diseases ..... Traditional/country foods are vitally important to diets for many indigenous households, providing high quality, nutrient-dense foods, as well as being an integral part of Indigenous culture. Although traditional/country food is consumed less than in the past, culturally acceptable, traditional/country foods may provide about one-quarter to over half of energy intakes in some Indigenous households.  Individuals who eat some traditional/country foods on a regularbasis are more likely to have nutritionally adequate diets than those who rely entirely on store-bought food. Reports from the FNFNES indicated that most First Nations adults living on reserve wanted more traditional food in their diets than they were able to access. When only store-bought food was consumed, intakes of saturated fat, sugar and sodium were significantly higher than on days when traditional food was eaten."