Trapping Conservation and Self-Reliance News

Household grants help build food sovereignty for First Nation families and communities in northern Ontario
Dec 15, 2022 07:15 ET

[Reprinted from original]

Original Title: Household grants help build food sovereignty for First Nation families and communities in northern Ontario

Gaagige Zaagibigaa is a granting agency that funds Indigenous food sovereignty projects in the region

Carla Duncan's son Trenton poses with some of the rabbits, beaver and marten he harvested over the winter. Thanks to a household grant from Indigenous food sovereignty agency Gaagige Zaagibigaa, Duncan was able to purchase a GPS device, making her feel more comfortable when her son goes trapping on the land. (Submitted by Carla Duncan)

Being on the land and harvesting wild game and foods is central to the way Carla Duncan lives and raises her children in Muskrat Dam First Nation.

Depending on the season, she and her family harvest moose, fish, partridge, rabbit, marten, geese and Labrador leaves.

"There are still lots of people in this area that practice daily living and harvesting our traditional food," Duncan said.

Thanks to a relatively new grant that supports Indigenous families in northern Ontario, now she has the tools to continue feeding her family and community.

Duncan has received two household grants from Gaagige Zaagibigaa, one of four funding agencies across the country focused on Indigenous food sovereignty projects, to help her purchase the equipment needed to process the traditional foods gathered.

Some of the new pots that Carla Duncan purchased with the Gaagige Zaagibigaa household grant are being used over the fire in Muskrat Dam First Nation. (Submitted by Carla Duncan)

Among the things Duncan's purchased include new industrial-sized pots and pans, knives, a meat grinder, and a new tarp for the teepee she uses as a gathering place, a processing centre and a storage space for food.

"It's so much more expensive to get any kind of equipment, especially in our area here … so it really helps having this grant," Duncan said, referencing the fact that Muskrat Dam is a fly-in First Nation located 580 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont.

But these grants allow Duncan and her family to process foods and share with the entire community.

Moose meat is being processed with this meat grinder that Carla Duncan was able to purchase thanks to a household grant by Indigenous food sovereignty agency Gaagige Zaagibigaa. (Submitted by Carla Duncan)

This fall, her husband and his hunting partner harvested four moose, and they were able to use her re-furbished teepee to process all that meat.

"You can't waste a single thing. So even the moose head, like they cook the moose head, so you need a huge pot to do that. Or like we cut up the back bone, or there's all kinds of different bones that we eat and share. So when we get a moose, everybody is involved. We must have had, I don't know, maybe over 100 different people throughout the whole week," she said.

"And you have to share everything, like we try to give out as much as we can to different people because part of our teaching is whatever you harvest, you share."

Thanks to a household grant, Carla Duncan of Muskrat Dam was able to buy new pots and pans, which she is using in this photo as she makes "sassipiman," a mixture of fish guts, fish eggs and blueberries. (Submitted by Carla Duncan)

Duncan was also able to purchase a GPS device, which makes her feel more comfortable as her youngest son spends more time going out on the land to trap and hunt — especially since there is limited or no cell service around the First Nation.

Hundreds of kilometres away, Bernard Gagnon has a similar story in Aroland First Nation.

He received a household grant from Gaagige Zaagibigaa this past year, which helped him purchase an upright freezer so he can store more food for longer during the winter.

Gagnon says he's out almost every weekend hunting, and the freezer will let him harvest more to provide for others in Aroland.

A new tarp covers Carla Duncan's teepee in Muskrat Dam First Nation, which she says is an important gathering place, food processing plant and storage site for wild game. The tarp was purchased thanks to a household grant from Gaagige Zaagibigaa. (Submitted by Carla Duncan)

"Me and my wife, we love being out there, doing what we do to help out our families or community elders to get some food for them during the winter," he said.

"If I hear somebody's looking for a whitefish or a piece of moose meat, I'll have it in my freezer and I'll give it to whoever needs it."

Receiving this grant is especially important because the cost of food and other household items is so high, Gagnon said, and an hour drive to the nearest grocery store adds to the growing expenses.

Jessica McLaughlin, the co-lead for Gaagige Zaagibigaa, says their household grants are empowering families to return to traditional diets and improve their food security.

Jessica McLaughlin (left), poses with two Indigenous youth, Shelby Gagnon and Morningstar Desrosiers during a hunt camp in northern Ontario. (Submitted by Jessica McLaughlin)

"I believe that the household is one of the places where Indigenous food sovereignty lives and thrives," she said.

Among other programs and relationships, the organization opens household grant applications twice a year, and offers $1,000 or $2,000 grants to about 250 households each round of applications.

Families can use that money in many different ways from buying supplies to help them get on the land to building a garden.

"So you're actually putting the power back to the people to make those choices for themselves rather than giving them a box full of food they didn't choose," McLaughlin said. "It's also important that we can make alternative ways to get food to your table and not have to buy into the market-based system and then pay outrageous costs."

The stories from Duncan and Gagnon are just two of hundreds, McLaughlin said, that demonstrate the need for this program.

"When we review the grants, there's always tears of happiness," she said. "We're always exchanging some of the amazing stories that people are writing and crying about them because it's inspiring. We know that this grant doesn't exist anywhere else."

There have already been three rounds of the grants, and a fourth round of applications will open in the new year, McLaughlin said.

This story is part of CBC Thunder Bay's annual fundraiser Sounds of the Season to support people struggling with food insecurity. It's also a chance to take a closer look at the reason people in northwestern Ontario are in need, and to spotlight stories of organizations working to improve food security in the region.