Sunday January 31, 2016

Food sovereignty research sprouts from a love of being on the land

Tabitha Martens' research into indigenous food sovereignty stems from her love of gardening and fishing.

Tabitha Martens' research into indigenous food sovereignty stems from her love of gardening and fishing. (Courtesy of Tabitha Martens )

Listen 7:15

For Tabitha Martens the decision to study indigenous food sovereignty wasn't easy.

"I was kind of adamant about not doing indigenous research. All of the indigenous courses and topics that I had been exposed to spoke to the disparities between indigenous people and non-indigenous," said the Cree researcher.

"It hurt my heart; I didn't have the stomach for it."

But her interest in the topic of food stemmed from her strong connection to the land and the fact she was a seasoned gardener and fisher, frequently escaping from Winnipeg to return to Peguis First Nation, Man.

"A few years ago I was talking to an elder about growing food, and I was offered advice of trying to erect a teepee in my garden," said Martens.

She took the suggestion to heart. She offered tobacco to the land, and planted bean seeds around the teepee.

Tabitha Martens in the garden

Tabitha Martens cares for her three sisters crop. Corn, beans and squash are the three main agricultural crops for indigenous farmers. (Courtesy of Tabitha Martens )

"I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life. The beans grew with gusto. It became a cone-shaped mass of tendrils, leaves and beans that was so beautiful to see, and such a reminder to me that these are the practices of how we used to grow food," she recalled.

"I realized that was very much to do with the connection between my heart and my hands. It was a moment where the thinking part of my brain could turn off, and the feeling part could lead the way."

If she felt this way, Martens concluded, others probably did as well.

So Martens, who studies at the University of Manitoba, decided to highlight positive food projects happening across the country — including a country foods program in Nelson House, Man. Country foods is also known as traditional foods.

"They hire local hunters and they provide them with fair wages to go onto the land, to hunt, and they keep a freezer full of wild meat," said Martens.

"The reason they do that is so that the elderly, the infirm, the single mothers in the community don't go hungry." 

Food sovereignty is still a relatively new movement. The goal is to ensure that people who produce food also control how it's distributed. Proponents of the movement say it challenges the reality of the global food system, which is controlled by corporations far removed from food production.

Indigenous food sovereignty also touches on the ideas of self-determination, self-governance and the fight for land reform, said Martens.