European colonization severely compromised sovereignty, land and land use, animals and foods, traditional knowledge, and health, through violence, subjugation, assimilation and enclosure (for some further history, see Lindberg, 2019, most chapters in Settee and Shukla, 2020). The Canadian food system is built on land and knowledge appropriated, first from First Nations and later from people of colour. 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. See also Frameworks, Food Justice.
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.