One of out every four First Nations people living off-reserve in Manitoba faces an ongoing struggle to put food on the table, data released today by Statistics Canada shows.
Detailed information on food security stemming from the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey revealed that Manitoba has the highest proportion of off-reserve First Nations people with either "low" or "very low" food security. British Columbia and Saskatchewan have the next highest levels of food insecurity with 19 and 21 per cent, respectively. Québec had the lowest level of food insecurity with 13 per cent.
Food insecurity is the inability to access affordable, healthy food.
Food Matters Manitoba, an organization whose mandate is to help food insecure communities, said these numbers are far from surprising.
"It demonstrates the reality that we see in our community work across the province, that indigenous people in this province are far more likely be more food insecure than the rest of the population," said acting executive director Stefan Epp-Koop.
The food insecurity rate for all Manitobans is between eight and 10 per cent, Epp-Koop said.
The Aboriginal Peoples Survey does not track people living on reserves. Epp-Koop said the situation in those non-captured communities can be far worst than the numbers indicate.
"If you focus in on remote communities in Northern Manitoba, [food insecurity] is sometimes as high as 75 per cent," he said.
As part of the Manitoba government's Northern Healthy Foods Initiative, Food Matters Manitoba collaborates with other northern groups to help deliver services and educate people struggling to feed themselves. The working group was struck following recommendations outlined in a 2003 report on northern food prices, the province said.
A lot of work still needs to be done, Epp-Koop said, but he pointed to local initiatives that are helping Manitoba's First Nations communities.
"In the community of Brochet, where a 10-pound bag of potatoes cost over $30, we've been working with a group of youth who've been gardening, growing food, then sharing it with people in the community," Epp-Koop said.
Statistics Canada measured food security on a scale by asking respondents how accurate the following statements are:
- The food that you bought just didn't last, and there wasn't any money to get more.
- You couldn't afford to eat balanced meals.
- In the past 12 months, did you ever cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn't enough money for food?
- How often did this happen — almost every month, some months but not every month, or in only 1 or 2 months?
- In the past 12 months, did you ever eat less than you felt you should because there wasn't enough money to buy food?
- In the past 12 months, were you ever hungry but didn't eat because you couldn't afford enough food?
Source: Statistics Canada